From designing buildings to facilitating transformation

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We have an established practice when it comes to designing things. But what does design look like when applied to the messy complexity of human communities? Hannah du Plessis -- Pittsburgh based designer and lecturer in the "MFA in Design for Social Innovation " program in New York City -- is part of this emerging field. This talk is about the shift from designing when your material is physical to when your material is social. It looks at three scales - community, team and individual.

Text of From designing buildings to facilitating transformation

  • from designing buildings to facilitating transformation Hannah du Plessis 1
  • From designing buildings to facilita4ng transforma4on Hannah du Plessis | Fit Associates, LLC | @hannahdup Presented February and March 2014 at University of Pretoria Green Side Design Center University of Johannesburg Cape Peninsula University of Technology 2014, Fit Associates LLC This work is licensed under the Crea4ve Commons APribu4on-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. You can copy and redistribute it, so long as you aPribute credit to its authors, do it only for non-commercial purposes, and dont alter it or create deriva4ve works based on it. To view a copy of this license, visit or send a lePer to Crea4ve Commons, 444 Castro Street, Suite 900, Mountain View, California, 94041, USA. 2
  • @Hannahdup Hello! MFA in Design for Social Innovation I had my first career in the world of interior design and architecture. Today, Im teaching and practicing design but my materials have changed radically. Im now working in the field of design for social innovation. This talk is about the shift from designing when your material is physical to when your material is social. I co-teach a course called Fundamentals of Design for Social Innovation at the School of Visual Art in NYC and work with Fit Associates in Pittsburgh. I do both of these with Marc Rettig. 3
  • Fifteen years ago, I started my career in interior design and architecture. 4 House van Dyk, Pretoria 2002 Cushala Game Farm, North West Province 2005
  • I worked on three continents with great clients and in wonderful teams. I loved seeing ideas take on concrete shapes. Later on I had my own business things were going swimmingly. 5 Plascon Color Pallet Launch, Decorex Johannesburg, 2008
  • BUT 6
  • Honestly, I dontdeeply care 7
  • that your ofces are more collaborative 8
  • that your art gallery has an amazing shape 9
  • or that your customers nd it delightful to select their paint colors 10
  • ? careless relationships Like yourself I grew up in South Africa where we are not sheltered from the raw realities of this world. From an early age I was dumbfounded by the careless relationships human beings seem to have between - Man & man = Oppression, segregation, the have/have not divide - Man & nature = Were consuming and discarding at unsustainable rates - Man & self = Why do so many of us have self-destructive habits? In 2010 more people died of suicides than wars, murder and natural disasters combined. (Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation) I wanted to make the world better. 11
  • First question: How can I change the world?
  • attempt # 1 How can I change my community to act kindly?! ! Leadership During my school years I was in leadership positions in both my school and church community. Every year a new leadership team would be selected. Every year we had the best intentions and would start of with great gusto, poised to change our world 13
  • Tip o the hat to Peter Senge But, every year around April or May we would see a decrease in our enthusiasm and, well, things would go back to normal. Nothing seemed to really change. After living through this curve for 8 years, I had enough of that. I was done with leadership. But not with making the world better. 14
  • attempt # 2 How can I help close the economic gap?! ! Interior Design I found the world of design and fell in love. Here is a discipline that has the ability to make the world better on a very practical level. Most of my clients were mainstream, not socially minded. But I used every project to build a bridge between nancially stable clients and emerging artist and crafters. It was lovely to see a moment of nancial relief for artists and crafters 15
  • But I was not creating sustained change. The larger economic system was unsupportive of a dream to see a more equitable world where there is enough for everyone, not mere moments of relief. During that time I had done work for Coca Cola. What would happen, I thought, if Coke saw themselves as part of the health of their communities and not just purveyors of sugary drinks? Surely a big corporation can create systemic change? 16
  • attempt # 3 How can I inuence corporations to do good?! ! Business strategy I went back to grad school to obtain my masters in design research and strategy. And, guess who was my rst client? Pepsi. There I was in their glass and marble ofces over- looking the Chicago skyline, bristling with excitement as we presented to their innovation management team. 17
  • GR E A T ! F A BU L O US ! My excitement was short lived. As I was standing there reading their corporate values in golden letters, looking at my clients whom I had gotten to know and respect, I realized I was in the wrong place. Again. I was back in my role of advocate. I was an external voice, a dusty chicken from Africa asking a big organization to be different that what it is. Good luck with that honey. 18
  • Why are we repeating our uncaring patterns?? Needless to say I was disappointed. Why in the world is it so darn difcult to change? Why, more than a decade after Mandela became president, has so little really changed in South Africa? And why have I not changed? You see, when I left South Africa, I left my rm and my marriage behind. I knew I needed something more life-giving. Two years later, I had a new career and a new relationship. Even though the form had changed, the essence had not. My new career was not making the world a better place, it was just increasing the waistlines of white middle-aged men. And my new relationship was not as new and great as I wanted it to be I was still repeating my old patterns of busking for approval. 19
  • I began to inquire into the nature of change. I came to see that we as humans are less like building materials and more like plants. 20
  • If I cut a piece of wood, it will stay in that shape for the rest of its life. But I I cut down this eld of owers 21
  • Next spring, they will come up again in more or less the same shape. 22
  • The same is true for humans. We can attempt to change our behavior, but if we dont change the invisible inner world that gives rise to our actions, we are fooling ourselves. 23
  • Tip o the hat to Peter Senge Arc of a typical organizational change effort This diagram is from Peter Senge, who works extensively in organizational learning. He says we make great plans and have great aspirations and everyone wags their tails with excitement, but soon the organizational inertia sets in. Peter Drucker says Culture eats strategy for breakfast we commit to working more effectively or going to the gym, we select a new president, we make a strategic plan, we pledge to end poverty or act as equals but our conditioned way of being is much stronger than our rational intentions. Who we are, not what we wish for, determines where we go. 24
  • The universe is made of stories, not atoms, poet Muriel Rukeyser famously proclaimed. The stories we tell ourselves and each other are how we make sense of the world and our place in it. Some stories become so sticky, so pervasive that we internalize them to a point where we no longer see their story- ness they become not one of many lenses on reality, but reality itself. stories weve heard and repeated so many times theyve become the invisible underpinning of our entire lived experience. Maria Popova (Brainpickings) 25
  • Unless we change our story, we will not create sustained change in our behavior. 26
  • But changing our story is not enough. 27
  • Behavior, stu, words, actions Organization, process, regulations Identity, culture & relationship A model of change in human communities Marc Rettig