"Business and social innovation live in separate worlds, and speak different languages. As the need to make humans more creative and society more resilient becomes central to corporations' ability to grow, it's time to change that. This is an invitation to learn how.
Cheryl Heller, Chair, MFA Design for Social Innovation, SVA
To put you at ease, if you are a good business person, this is about profit, not nonprofit. It's about creating markets, not philanthropy or charity or cause marketing. It's about using design to benefit people, both inside companies and in society, and in the process, strengthening business.
The traditional purview of corporate design is making objects and other artifacts. The traditional view of designers is as talented (but somewhat narrow and usually outside) experts who apply their personal vision to the creation of products, communications and services. The value of traditional design is measured by its direct contribution to bottom line.
Many companies believe that if you want a blockbuster product, you focus all your time, talent and money on designing, manufacturing and marketing that product. And that can work, but given the volatility of just about everything today, not as often or as big or for as long as it used to.
Companies that produce sustainable products understand that you need to consider the entire system of which that product is a part.
Social design takes that one step further: design a system that supports the people and infrastructure that makes the products, help them be more creative, more innovative and more right more of the time. And make it good for society and the environment while you're doing it.
It's the design of new strategies, concepts, ideas and organization that meet social needs of all kinds: interaction design in the broadest sense ––interaction between people that takes responsibility for positive, systemic impact. And It takes place within organizations and communities, not outside of them.
Social design "scales up" the principles and processes of design to work on human dynamics, at a systems level – with deep understanding of context and by creating the conditions for success: engaging stakeholders, building strong relationships; sharing access to knowledge. When this kind of design is applied to business, it can shift cultures, instill creativity throughout an organization, and ignite the new thinking and transformational opportunities we need now.
From designing things to designing relationships that create the right outcomes: While relationships have always been important to business, (businesses are, in fact, nothing more than a series of relationships), the nature of these relationships has been both predictable and one-dimensional in terms of who the participants are, the value asked of them and the value they receive in return. Business leaders look for loyalty from customers, employees and shareholders that translates into a commitment to purchase, work hard or buy shares. These are the standard measures by which business leaders are evaluated, and it's how they measure the health of their firms.
But the complex, hairy, connected systems of our shrinking planet impose atypical relationships on all of us – with the myriad previously unheard voices that come through social media, with ecosystems we didn't notice until we sent them into shock with our interference, with invisible forces that our lust for big data makes visible. These non-traditional relationships can't be managed in the tried and true ways. They are impervious to the preordained values and rewards of business.
Social designers find their inspiration seeing unexpected connections between things – noticing the unusual relationships that change the nature of the whole. They map these connections, making them cogent and visible; dynamics that were unseen before become part of the conversation, part of what can be designed.
Social design requires skills and knowledge incremental to the core visual and technical skills that designers are currently taught: skills for mapping, storytelling, ethnographic research, analysis, understanding change models, facilitation, collaboration and persuasion. These new skills open the creative process to collective participation, engaging a culture in imagining and realizing its own future. And that is the heart of this powerful new tool for business. Just as businesses need sustainable products and processes, they need to include the sustainability of their own people and society in order to succeed.
There are a growing number of companies that are changing the game in their favor by using social design.
And there is a new masters program where designers are learning to help them do that.
We'd like to invite you to find out more about the companies and the place where people learn to use design to solve human problems in business and society. Come back to school, send one of your employees or colleagues. Contact us for more information. Apply now for the fall of 2015.
Content for this article was sponsored.