Happy New Year 2014

Happy New Year.

A year is a random measurement of achievement and progress really but it does offer a good chance to draw breath and look at what has happened and what direction we are going in.

From my perspective, it’s been a good year for design with a lot less navel gazing and a lot of delivery. Here are some examples.

Design, Government and Public Sector
Across the board, design has moved from an interesting fad to an important tool to connect policy, actions and citizens. In a very practical way, GDS (Government Digital Services) continues to create splendid innovation in subtle ways, mostly by removing stuff that no one had noticed wasn’t necessary anymore. It’s what Ben Terrett describes as “Fixing the Basics”. From disappearing car tax discs to easier on line voter registration for first time voters (which could have a major impact at the May election), many of life’s bureaucratic hassles are disappearing. This is a different type of design, one which is successful when it’s invisible. As Terrett says, “do less”. The beautifully simple approach to brand and design elements are refreshing, appropriate to government and an inspiration in an over designed world. https://www.gov.uk/design-principles

It was and remains a fear that despite the clear benefits of GDS and the great achievements they can show, there is a threat that they are seen as political initiative, being as closely linked with MP Francis Maude as they are with Martha Lane Fox’s report that kicked off the whole venture. It is vital that whatever complexion of government the UK has after May, the role of GDS should be strengthened and empowered as it appears to be the one innovation that has worked in the delivery of public services in recent times, enhancing efficiency and customer experience at the same time.

Inside of government the experiment that is the Cabinet Office Policy Lab continues under the leadership of Andrea Siodmok with the brilliant design academic Lucy Kimbell on board too. At the Future Present event just before Christmas with 6 speakers including myself making their predictions for the near future, the Churchill Rooms at 100 Parliament Street were packed with designers and civil servants looking at how design, society, technology and consumer behaviour might shape up and what that will mean for government.

It’s a topic picked by the All Party Design and Innovation Group (APDIG) round table at the House of Lords in November where Jesper Christian of Mindlabs and Christian Basin of the Danish Design Council were eloquent and inspiring on the role of design (defined as “arranging elements to achieve a purpose) in policy making.

The Policy Lab is a yearlong experiment to deliver 5 projects and measure the impact of different thinking involving users, creativity and practical delivery mechanisms. And so far it’s avoided the wrath of the UK’s innovation killing press so fingers crossed.

Design and Technology
As usual, developments in technology make a lot of noise, fail to deliver in the short term and their real impact comes out later. In 2014 we can finally agree that Google Glasses have been a failure, mostly because, as the BBC’s Rory Cellan-Jones put it, “it makes its users look daft.”

One of the highlights of the year was meeting Rory to talk about the Apple Watch and Jony Ive. Rory was not entirely convinced: we’ll find out in 2015 whether it will be a useful as well as beautiful. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-29697467

The Health App, crude and very buggy on the iPhone 6, is still my most looked at app of the last month and Apple’s stake on health as the cornerstone of wearables must be correct. I talked in the Future Present event about the Gamification of data and the impact this would have. As with the Apple Health App, the Freestyle Libre blood glucose monitor is another excellent example of behaviour changing data that could radically simplify diabetes sufferer’s control over their condition. The device has a wearable sensor that pierces the skin and sends the glucose levels to a small device when held next to it. The sensor is replaced every two weeks, but most importantly removes the need to prick a finger to test blood to measure glucose levels.

I know about the product because my son has sourced it to improve his ability to control his condition. I like it as an example of customer instigated innovation that the NHS should be encouraging and helping trial, I hope they see the potential for wearables, data and behaviour change.

And earlier in the year APDIG produced their excellent report on design and digital economy. http://www.policyconnect.org.uk/apdig/research/report-designing-digital-economy-embedding-growth-through-design-innovation-and-technology

Design and Education
The role of creativity and design continues to be hopelessly underestimated by the Government and traditional education bodies such as the Russell Group of Universities. Education Minister Nicky Morgan wants more scientists but to tell kids their arts education is of no value is an old fashioned concept that bears no relationship with a modern world were creativity is a day to day requirement for solving problems and driving economic growth. The UK actually has an excellent arts and technology culture that results in a thriving creative industries and great science innovation benefiting from marketing, design and conceptual vision. In the streets of Shoreditch and across the Science Parks of Britain designers and arts graduates work side by side with scientists and engineers to create real value. We need both, collaborating, with respect and understanding. You see it in Stanford and the start-up culture of the US, but we look stodgy and old fashioned in comparison whilst these old fashioned science versus arts mentality continues.

To this end the RSA’s focus on Creativity is important and will have a lasting legacy. I have been a Trustee of the RSA for 5 years and seen reform to the relationship with the 27,000 Fellows and the creation of an exciting strategy aimed at creating lasting impact. It’s a cross disciplinary approach with projects harnessing education, social policy and economic research with design and creativity. This will be a very exciting year for the RSA, starting with the release of the new web site in January.
Watch this space and get involved.

It was also a great year for the RSA Royal Designers for Industry, under the leadership of Malcolm Garrett. An inspirational crop of new RDIs this year who showcase the impact of design on society, for which the RSA is uniquely placed to celebrate.

Personal highlights
My year has mostly been about designing an exciting on line service that I can’t tell you anything about. This time next year, I’ll be able to. It will be a heroic tale of hard work, creativity and challenges overcome.

I love to tell the design story to those who are not in the industry and this year I’ve spoken at some great events. Highlights were the Festival of Marketing in November, Innovate2014 (the flagship for Technology Strategy Board now renamed Innovate UK), a fantastic evening at consultancy Prophet in September and to the EV venture capital group in Manchester. I got to judge the Drum Digital Design Awards too were we all disagreed brilliantly.

And finally tangerine celebrated 25 years since Martin Darbyshire and I started up in 1989. Attracting a young designer fresh out of college called Jonathan Ive turned out to be quite a good move. He didn’t make the celebration at Central St Martins but our other partner Pete Philips did and a great night it was too.

On that topic, have a great New Year, let’s get even better at designing a world that solves it’s problems and takes it’s opportunities.

Clive Grinyer 31 December 2014