“Thank you Bill for the introduction, and thank you all for giving me the chance to be here with you today. I am excited to share some of my thoughts on the current state of design practice, and the growing need for designers of a new breed, in a world exploding with need. I have had a few rough weeks, with the Wilkins Ice Shelf breaking off in Antarctica, a rumour that some of the native birds are no longer returning to the British Isles, the ongoing financial collapse and struggling economic recovery, the growing spread of H1N1, the increasing poverty in the developing world, pirates destroying the restoration of Somalia, and the decreasing investment in our cities and urban environments. These are just a few of the scary headlines this past week, and only hint at the many challenges that are facing our global population as we move through our time on the planet.

Now, these are all troubling issues, and ones that may keep us up at night I am sure. But within all these mountains of calamity around us, there is a sliver lining, an oasis of opportunity that design plays a direct and profound connection to. It is that our profession has the right pieces and parts to actually do something about them. We, as designers have the right tools for the job of moving mountains, to push the world in a positive direction, and to help direct and inform the cultures that we work for.

As Bill mentioned, I have a strong background across a number of areas and this experience has opened my eyes to where some of the opportunities are, and how designers are able to find the spaces that require design. The techniques and expertise that you have picked up and tested while studying here will serve you well. I wanted to discuss five of the most important ones and describe how they will help you compete in the age of the imagination. The important detail is to find new ways of using and applying these skills, and to build them into meaningful and productive work. Here is a list of some of the key pieces to our designer’s toolbox.

1. Design Research – Design has begun to shed its ego driven, style first approach and has shifted into a research lead profession. This is a massive shift for a creative industry, known more for its ability to be shallow, than deep. Research, genuine research is the ability to shape information into knowledge, guessing into knowing, and thinking into action. Genuine research allows us to become intellectual vendors rather than just form makers.

2. Collaboration – The ability to harness the people power needed to accomplish a task is beyond the silo mentality common to most other professions. The troubles that require our attention are far too complex to envision an individual solution. Designers have a unique advantage in the area of team building. We have always needed diverse groups to drive our work to an end, and this capability gives designers an inside track to connect dots, and to get to smarter, bigger and better places quicker.

3. Visioning – The ability to create visions of what can be is an enormous tool in the designer’s toolbox. To not only be able to imagine what can be but also to possess the tools to demonstrate them for others to see is such a powerful, and commanding advantage. Illustrating visions, allows others a glimpse into worlds and possibilities that do not exist yet, but could. To be able to place images into the minds of others is a voodoo skill, and one that designers have a special knack for delivering.

4. Experimentation and invention – The design process, starting with a problem or opportunity, the building of possible outcomes and concepts, creating options and solutions, is such an open ended progression. Most clients avoid risk, leading to a safe and beige experience; it hampers growth, and is the antithesis of change. Designers are comfortable in the grey zone and the fog. We make risk our ally, and we understand how it fuels and drives invention. Design is like a lab, we test drive ideas and experiment with possibilities. The talent to play with dreams is a major area of design practice. As we all know, experimentation leads to fresh thinking, and new ways of doing things. All of which are in heavy demand today.

5. Be positive/Be inspired – Our world is full of wonder and opportunity, and it is up to you to discover the wonderlust that is all around us. If designers lose the ability to be inspired and to remain positive, than all is truly lost. We are the last line of defense, and we must bare the responsibility that our work embraces humanity like no other. We owe it to the societies we work for, to deliver them joy and progress. Design thinking and processes like the ones I have outlined, are the golden keys to the future. Without them we cannot participate in the growing economy of ideas. They are the essential components in fostering growth and innovation, and most importantly they are the instruments to help shape the world around us. It is your designer’s toolbox, packed full of sharpened skills that are your most major asset.

I encourage you to think about your practices, and next steps. To use your design skills to shape our experiences in ways that create hope, happiness and love, and to use the profession for good, and to noble ends.

That brings me to the end of my talk. Again I appreciate being asked to speak with you tonight, and remind you to wish your mothers a wonderful Mothers day.

Thank you.”

Wonderlust York/Sheridan Joint Program in Design graduation show
The York/Sheridan Joint Program in Design was established in 1999 as Ontario’s first Bachelor of Design degree program. It is offered jointly by York University in Toronto and Sheridan, with students taking courses at both institutions.
Photo by Greg Durell.
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