Plan D—Finding design solutions

Format: Papers, RSD2, Topic: Learning & Education

Dinesh Korjan

Plan D is about finding design solutions even when the problems are not conventional design problems. There are some compelling reasons why design solutions may be more effective than conventional approaches to solving complex problems in many instances.Over the years of practice and teaching design, I have been keenly exploring ways to integrate systems thinking into the design process. While it is the logical approach for understanding the context of a complex problem, it often turns out that the solutions to such problems lie outside the domain of design. Or that design action must be supported by many other changes in policy, law, management etc., to bring about a real transformation. But the real quest has always been—are there situations where design action itself can bring about a significant transformation? In the last few years, as part of two courses, I teach Introduction to Design Processes and Systems Thinking/Design. I have been trying two different approaches to make design interventions work at the systems level.

One, to try and create a systemic change through a localized design act and two, to use design to transform a large complex problem where design is not usually considered the obvious answer.The new entity has the potential to re-arrange the interconnections within a complex situation in such a way that there is a transformation of the situation itself without undue pressure on reforming people, policing them, re-creating new systems altogether and so on. A design solution, whether tangible or otherwise, is always a creation or re-creation. Even when it is a service or experience, or process, there is a perceptible ‘difference’ that is new and was not there before. A loose working definition for Design is ‘meaningful creation’. Meaningful—to denote that the act is intentional and directed towards a purpose. Additional keywords are ‘new’ and ‘elegance’.

Examples of challenges taken up include: How can I make the world a better place by re-designing a simple object like a paperweight or a candle, or a balloon? What kind of design intervention can solve the problem of “Rampant Ticketless Traveling in (Mumbai) Suburban Trains”? What kind of business can I design to pull the country out of a recession? What should I create to change the world by tomorrow morning? The process of engaging with these questions involves arriving at a systemic, structural understanding of the problem space, identifying leverage points and creating minimal yet strategic design actions that could bring about a big transformation.

The results have been fascinating. The solutions are not only convincing and more powerful than the conventional alternatives, but the cost of implementation looks like a fraction of what would otherwise get spent. While variations of these courses have been taught at various design and management schools in India: e.g., National Institute of Design Ahmedabad, Indian Institute of Technology, Gandhinagar, Foundation for Liberal and Management Education, Pune, Srishti School of Art, Design & Technology Bangalore. The outcomes have been equally interesting throughout. This paper is an opportunity to reflect on the process and the outcomes and share this with others on similar quests.

Citation Data

Author(s): Dinesh Korjan
Title: Plan D—Finding design solutions
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
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First published: 15 September 2013
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Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design (ISSN 2371-8404) are published annually by the Systemic Design Association, a non-profit scholarly association leading the research and practice of design for complex systems: 3803 Tønsberg, Norway (922 275 696).


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