I had the pleasure of being present today at a lecture by Lucy Kimbell on Designing Services and Designing Societies.

In the lecture she talked about the ways in which design is being used at the level of Govn’t and societies and that what that means is that designers at that scale are moving away from designing artifacts to designing processes. It is less about design as problem solving but more about design as problem finding/framing/constructing.

What that means on simple scale, is that the problems that are currently being tackled by communities and governments (particularly by David Cameron and the Big Society) are very similar to the process of design thinking and the ways in which design thinkers go through their problems.

e.g. There were a a group of organizations that were involved in working with various different families. These were social workers, police, community boards, food kitchens, churches, etc.

Seating these people around one table to attempt to design some sort of policy is easy. Its not easy to get them to communicate effectively. This is where design comes in. In the example used by Lucy Kimbell, they developed a persona about a family and made it open enough that everyone of the involved parties could offer feedback on how they would approach that problem. This allowed for conversation to move to a level where everyone could understand the others approach. The rest of the workshop utilized other design tools to frame the problem. Here the designers weren’t designing artifacts but were designing the conversation amongst non designers, using design tools.

The take away here is that the persona is a very powerful tool to allow different people to look at one problem and approach it in a way that everyone can participate. Design, is clearly very useful at this level of conversation and policy making. Designers are experts at framing problems.

What becomes worrying for me however, is that the designers seem to be making themselves obsolete. Once the community has experienced the design tools and acknowledged them as being important, whats to keep them from using it themselves? Why would they call in the designers again next time? Especially, if the designers are charging for a process/service and not an artifact?

We have already seen design reappropriated for business and management via Design Thinking and Consultancy.

Designers are no longer necessary there.

Now we are seeing design being used on governmental and policy scales.

Soon they won’t be necessary there either.

Are designers designing themselves away and assimilating into other disciplines?

Or will design have to return to being linked to an artifact?