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Picture 12While the main stage presentations at AIGA Minnesota’s Design Camp last weekend didn’t really focus on the topic of change in the design world, much of the side chatter I was hearing involved the changing ways that designers are working—or being forced to work. With a student-to-professional ratio of roughly 1:1 at the conference (rare for a design event with a professional focus), there were plenty of attendees who were looking at their own future with shaky knees, wondering where the opportunity will be in this profession that seemed so wide open less than a couple years ago.

Of course, the design jobs will return (perhaps a bit slower than some would prefer), but what exactly will the job description be when they do? Designers—and especially communication designers—have found ourselves tagged on to the end of the business process despite our best efforts to infiltrate our clients at a deeper level. The fact remains that the vast majority of what we do still involves putting a pretty package around a product, service, system, or experience that was fundamentally complete before we designers arrived on the scene.

So, I was pleased this morning as I bagged up school lunches for my two teenagers (talk about a design project…) to hear the topic of design coming from the radio speakers. Tim Brown, CEO of global design firm IDEO and author of the new book Change By Design: Tim Brown’s Book on How Design Thinking Inspires Innovation, was being interviewed by NPR’s Renee Montagne. I was doubly pleased that the focus of the conversation was around the potential for design to impact our dysfunctional healthcare system, a topic about which I am passionate.

I’ve embedded this short interview below along with a recent TED video in which Tim Brown expands on his ideas for design and design thinking to make change.

“I think the design of participatory systems in which many more forms of value beyond simply cash are both created and measured is going to be the major theme not only for design but also for our economy as we go forward.”

This is a profound statement that, if true, will dramatically change the expectations placed upon those students I encountered at Design Camp as they invent the next generation of our profession. Tim Brown’s prophecy is daunting for those of us in the middle of our careers, but as always, with change comes opportunity. Personally, I’m in complete agreement with Brown on this issue and I welcome his loud, strong voice to the chorus of change.

NPR Morning Edition Interview with Tim Brown

Tim Brown TED Talk

logo_npr_125It’s always informative to me to see how the mainstream media presents business stories, and in this piece from NPR’s All Things Considered, reporter Wendy Kaufman paints an accurate picture of the current entrepreneurial landscape. She focuses on two themes that have been discussed many times on Merge: first, an economic downturn is an excellent time to launch a new venture; and second, don’t expect to have easy access to venture capital.

Biomedical research, and sustainable technologies are highlighted as areas that are getting much attention despite the recession. While I don’t expect the biomedical area to see a lot of activity from the creative professionals, I see sustainability as a category that is wide open for invention and interpretation.

Kaufman does sound a note of caution about the temptation for “big idea” entrepreneurs to take advantage of federal stimulus funds William Dunkelberg, chief economist of the National Federation of Independent Business, “They [the bureaucrats] don’t have a great record of being creative or innovative or ingenious or running businesses very well.”

But the overall tone of the piece is positive, with Jerry Engel of the Lester Center at UC Berkeley stating, “Now is a great time to start a venture.”

I had one of those NPR moments the other day when I got into my car midway through an All Things Considered story about something called bloblive. I was instantly riveted to the radio listening to short cuts of people describing their start-up business ideas in front of a (very) live audience. Bloblive is an event that has taken root in Philadelphia and Santa Monica, CA, and it’s best described as “open mic night for entrepreneurs.” A web-only version has also been created called ideablob.

Each presenter at bloblive gets 90 seconds to tell their story, which is followed by a short session of Q&A and suggestions from the crowd. Presenters vie for a small prize ($100 in the ATC story), but the real benefit is the feedback and the experience of presenting your idea.

Here’s a clip from bloblive:

For me, this brought to mind the recent success of Ignite Minneapolis, a “speed presentation” event where presenters get 5 minutes to talk about ANYTHING. Presentations from the first Ignite event in April ranged from the practical (building your own home theater on the cheap), to the absurd (are we on the brink of a robot revolution?). Organizers were wondering if they would get more than a hundred people to show up and they had over 400—a tribute to the firestorm of social media pre-buzz that the event generated. This relationship between online and live connections is very intriguing and, I think, will be a surprising outcome of the social media trend.

Here’s a clip from Ignite Minneapolis #1:

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