Wednesday, February 21, 2007
Designing for social issues: Hilary Cottam
Hilary Cottam - who does not call herself a designer but won the UK Designer of the Year award in 2005 - offers a wonderful example of what "design leadership" might be.
Hilary visited Oxford earlier this week to talk about failure, doubt and misdirection - as part of the "Permission to Fail" series at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art, University of Oxford, organized by artist Abigail Reynolds. In contrast to another recent speaker in this series, novelist AL Kennedy who talked eloquently about the doubt and amibiguity in her writing practice, Hilary talked a great deal about institutional failture and institutional doubt.
In a range of projects in the UK and internationally, Hilary has developed and used visual and participatory methods to help people in complex and difficult situations make sense of their environment and the sorts of changes they want. She has worked with artists and designers to help people give form to their aspirations, needs and fears. Whether working with her neighbouring slum dwellers in the Dominican Republic, persuading the UK Department for Education to give her £10million to re-design not just a school building in south London but also its processes and organization, and then as the leader of the Design Council's RED unit, Hilary has created opportunities for groups of people to co-imagine and co-design their services.
What I found particularly interesting was the questions she is now asking herself and her team (who have left the Design Council and are setting up a social venture). How do you scale these practices? What institutional forms need to be developed to move away from industrial models of education and health provision? In what ways can we discuss the implications and effects of using what some people call "design thinking" and design methods (visualization, prototyping, user focus)? And if Hilary's goal is "to help people do it for themselves" what are the ethical and political issues that are embedded in this?