From Designing in Teams to Designing in Networks (and Why it Matters) – Part 1

Part 2 of this article is here.

Many have turned to the application of design practices when addressing complex societal problems. One of the differences between ‘traditional’ design practice and design in a complex societal context is that design no longer just happens within specialized teams.

Instead, designing has broadened to what Ezio Manzini calls  ‘a designing network’, where design roles and skills are distributed over multiple stakeholders who are actively involved in making decisions. This fundamentally changes the roles of designers, the people they work with, and arguably the processes they run.

In this blog, we explore the concept of a designing network to draw new insights on collaborations for social innovation, as described by Manzini in his book Design, When Everybody Designs: An Introduction to Design for Social Innovation (2015).

A designing network refers to a group of people distributed over multiple connected teams and organizations from different parts of society who collectively address complex social issues.

It’s not just a ‘collaboration’, but rather serves to foster the process of innovation through a set of specific practices. Moreover, it is not always clear from the start who is going to act, and roles may change over time for different stakeholders (from co-design to funding to prototyping to implementation). We describe the concept more fully below. [See Part 2 of this article here.]

Why does this matter?

If we, as social innovators, can better understand the designing networks that we are part of, and the underlying dynamics of how these networks function, we will be better able to adjust our behaviour and the processes we foster in response.

This will allow the network as a whole, to function more effectively to create the most impactful outcomes.

By now, we know quite a lot about how to work effectively in teams, as demonstrated by many evidence-based techniques that can be learned, such as through team coaching and leadership training.

But our understanding of how to work in designing networks is still fairly limited, particularly in the context of addressing complex societal problems.

We, as the authors of this blog, each have an interest in better understanding the dynamics of these designing networks. We decided to further explore this topic together with the broader ‘lab community’ in Toronto while Mieke was visiting MaRS Solutions Lab as an international fellow in May 2018.

We gathered with a group of 25 people who study and work in the fields of design and social innovation in OCAD University’s Strategic Innovation Lab (sLab) to discuss what designing networks are, what value they produce, how we are working together, and how we can progress our learning. Participants included lab practitioners, designers, civil servants, and academics.

These discussions raised more questions than answers for us on their implications for the field, and we share them with you here to advance our understanding of the concept so we can continuously improve our work in running co-design processes for social good.

Discussion about designing networks with the Toronto-based public and social innovation community at OCAD University. Photo credit: Claire Buré

Part 2 of this article is here.

Republished with permission.

Featured Image, block quoting, and some paragraph spacing added by Enlivening Edge Magazine. Featured Image by Karolina Grabowska from Pixabay