How Good Would Philip Have Been As a Designer For The Greater Good

The context of a designer such as Philippe Starck differs from that of a designer trying to build solutions to a need. Philippe Starck is a rock star designer, designing aesthetic superior objects no one needs and only a few can afford them. But even so, the process of his design endeavours has a lot of similarities to the process of a designer for the greater good. Let’s look at the different phases of the design process and see to what extent Starck’s design fashion differs from those of those who design for the real world or the real needs of this world.

Framing the need or understanding of the brief 

A designer for the greater good or one that designs solutions that help beneficiaries overcome a need will start with understanding needs, the people to whom it is a need and the context in which they suffer from it. The design fashion of Philippe Starck when designing his Juicy Salif wasn’t so much different. Although he hadn’t done extensive research to understand the need a fruit press is fulfilling, he started with the problem of making juice out of a lemon or an orange and the solutions already there to fulfil that function. He didn’t come to that understanding doing some desk research but by making sketches of existing fruit presses. He did so on the placemat of Il Corsaro, the pizzeria where the whole design process took place.

Ideating on the possible solutions 

When we have a good idea of the need at stake, we can start ideating solutions to address the need. In the context of service design or social design, we typically start creative workshops with beneficiaries and sometimes other stakeholders to come to novel solutions that approach the need from a different angle. Using metaphorical or analogical thinking, we refer to other concepts to find novel, more productive approaches to address the need.

Testing prototypes and understanding shortcomings 

When we design for the real world, and that’s where design practices start to differ, we, of course, need to test whether or not the solutions we have in mind will be of real value to our beneficiaries. An iterative process starts, where we learn better to understand the need when testing the solution. Our better understanding should then result in an improved solution.

As it does not matter if Starck’s juice press works or not, the latter steps in the process are less of a concern. But the dynamics of designing are very similar.

The reason for these similarities in working we have to search within the practice of design. A practice in which designers jump from problem-focused to solution-focused thinking and back. Iteratively, they try to understand the problem, what the solution might look like, and how they can work out that solution. It is a far less structured process than we tend to believe according to the design thinking hype. It is a genuinely creative process, one that has not one way of doing and that has no clear path.


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