Designing for the Common Good

Reading time: 3 – 5 minutes

DCGDesigning for the Common Good is a must-read for anyone involved with innovation in the public sector or in public spaces. The book is a superbly designed, practical follow-up to Kees Dorst’s Frame Innovation.

The book is build around concise descriptions of projects  that the Designing Out Crime Research Centre at University Technology Sydney has undertaken over the last decade and brief reflections on design principles and practices that underlie the projects.

If Frame Innovation presents Dorst’s current thinking on public sector and public space design practice for an academic audience, Designing for the Common Good, which is co-written by Dorst and many professional and student collaborators, addresses for a much broader interdisciplinary audience of designers, practitioners, and change makers.

If This is Service Design Thinking is the book that launched the practical service design movement (as evidenced in a metanalysis as the most cited text at the ServDes conference , then I see Designing for the Common Good as a positive sign that  the field of design for service and social innovation is evolving.  It compliments Lucy Kimbell’s Service Innovation Handbook, which offers a bricolage of theory, methods and cases. It bests Ben Reason, Lavrans Løvlie and Melvin Brand Flu’s Service Design for Business because it does more than share abstract advice and approaches for business professionals with scant examples. Dorst and his co-writers foreground authentic, varied case studies and back them up with evidence-based reflections and methods. Like Kimbell, Dorst and his collaborators offer newcomers to design for public innovation rich, authentic cases and methods to consider, and unlike any design for the public good text I have read yet, Dorst et. al are able to address the interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary nature  of  public design projects whereas  most of the books on design for public project still are constrained by a narrow focus on corporate and business design.

What I appreciate most about the work this work is how it offer practical pragmatic design methods that are informed by solid and intentional design research while also being written to inform practitioners. The authenticity and richness of the cases, reflections and methods distinguish this book from those that are overly theoretical and academic (for example, Making Futures), narrowly focussed on business and management lens (e.g. Service Design for Business). It complements the emerging bodies of work that address design for public sector innovation (e.g Leading Public Service Innovation) and work on design for services at the local or regional level (e.g. Design for Services or Design, where Everybody Designs). An interesting question for the future might be how might frame innovation inform or complement transition design towards particular environmental or social futures?

What I find most compelling about Design for the Common Good is that the authors explicitly address the limitations of their approach and  call for the need to augment design with substantive organizational development. Successful projects are bounded by time, space and geography. What might work at Kings Cross in Sydney will likely not work on the Granville Entertainment strip in Vancouver. Having read Frame Innovation and Design for the Common Good, I am itching to design and facilitate a frame innovation project.