Inspiration Monday: Design, When Everybody Designs by Ezio Manzini


“People live at the same time in a social space and a physical space; therefore their interactions also occur in both spaces. In the first they produce social forms, while in the second they produce places. All together they create society…

A place is a space endowed with sense. In other words, it is a space that is meaningful for someone. In view of this, and given that meaning emerges from conversations, it would appear that for a place to exist there must be a group of people who talk about it and act in it.

…the physical space that people occupy becomes a place when those sharing it decide to do something about it together… this means that they decide to start and manage a place-related collaborative organization; in so doing they become a special kind of intentional community… a place-making community.”

These three statements are taken from a new book by the great Italian design theorist Ezio Manzini‘Design, When Everybody Designs’ is an exploration of the area of design in which Creative Data is situated, that of co-creation between designers and communities.

I have to say this book is written in quite a dense academic style, so I wouldn’t recommend it as a light, easy read, but if you are passionate about social enterprise within the context of design, and ideas around co-creation and community organisation, then it has some excellent insights into where the industry is now.

Lucy and I went to see Manzini speak at the Royal Society of Arts back in June, where he was launching the book. In his talk he spoke about the overlapping fields of design, problem solving and sense making, which we felt dovetailed beautifully with our Creative Data mission.

Creative Data’s work revolves primarily around sense-making within physical spaces. By helping people explore how complex issues relate to their own lives, in familiar spaces, we are building capacity for understanding and action. In doing this we hope many people will be able find their own solutions or coping mechanisms that work well for them in their lives and wider communities. This co-creation approach is essentially what Manzini is talking about in this book.

Here’s an interesting statement about the role of designers from his RSA talk,

“Design should be able to criticise. We don’t want to be egoic designers, we are facilitators and we bring the ideas. We must dare to say something – we have to have ideas and it’s important to have different opinions.”

The notion of design as a a way to facilitate criticism of the current system and develop collaborative responses chimes usefully with the way that Lucy and I practice  in Creative Data. We are  interested in developing conversations to challenge preconceived notions, offering a critique of issues that develops interpretations of intuitive responses and new practical solutions, as opposed to identifying technical or theoretical challenges. This is why the phrase “…meaning emerges from conversations,” from the excerpt at the top, really jumped out at me.

In this book Manzini goes against current sustainability thinking by criticising what he called ‘Solutionism’. In our obsession with solving the world’s problems he believes we might be being a little short sighted.

“Not everything should be reduced to finding a solution, that’s not rich or deep enough.”

Certainly with the Creative Data mission of co-creation, conversation and exploration, rather than take the straight road, we are looking to go on a winding journey with people to develop deeper understanding. In a world that praises speed and efficiency, taking time to cultivate rich and deep meaning isn’t the norm, but we believe it creates more engagement and therefore more effective behaviour change in the end.

Manzini emphasises in this new book that designers have the capability of forging new social norms and that without community involvement, seemingly big and clever design ideas won’t last the course.

“If you can solve problems and build social links, then the solution will be sustainable.”

The book looks at how designers are the new connectors and bridge builders between an increasingly creative and connected world. He puts design into 3 categories:

Diffuse design – everybody and their broad creativity

Expert design – professionals and their specific skills

Co-design – the collaboration between community and professionals to create multidisciplinary projects

I think this is a helpful viewpoint for those professional creatives who are threatened by the idea that everyone is a designer now. I have always seen our job at Creative Data as a kind of translation service from theory and academia to life in the real world. We are the designers (expert) but we want to work with communities to tell their stories (diffuse) and in the process create a multi-disciplinary practice (co-design).

As Manzini suggests, there is really nothing to be afraid of when everyone designs. It only offers up more opportunities for us to build the bridges to a new vision of, what Manzini calls, SLOC – a slow, local open, connected world.