Want to Actually Change the Future of Business? Bring Designers to the Table

By Nathan Shedroff – July 1, 2014

In case you didn’t notice, we’re already halfway through 2014. It’s time to turn and face the future—and design the one we want.

David Brin, the noted science fiction writer (and one of my favorites) wrote an article for Bloomberg six months ago describing how a new century doesn’t get started until about year 14. Brin and I must be on the same wavelength. A year ago, I asked AIGA’s executive director Ric Grefé if I could program the next incarnation of the “Gain: AIGA Design and Business Conference,” the organization’s biennial event focused on design and business. I’ve been thinking about the future for a while and have become frustrated that “progress” has seemed slow and isolated. I even launched a new degree at CCA to train pragmatic futurists.

But rather than a conversation on the business of design, I think we need a conversation on the redesign of business. This century is going to see incredible change, but it doesn’t make sense to merely let it happen undirected or unprepared. We need a thoughtful and deliberate approach to designing that change. Since the 1970s, many companies have created strategic foresight groups (or hired these as consultants) to better prepare their organizations to deal with change in the myriad possible futures, and—as ambitious as this sounds—to have an effect on how the future unfolds.

Largely, designers haven’t been a part of this process. Well, not typically, and not the kind that call themselves “designers.” But we have many of the relevant skills, like seeing and describing things others don’t and building complex solutions to challenges that seem daunting or intractable.

Of course, business doesn’t function in a vacuum. The economy, government and organizations of all types are in constant flux. This is why any conversation about the future of business would be incomplete if it didn’t also discuss how government, society, economies, etc. must change. The future, itself, should be designed. Fundamentally, this starts by addressing and reimagining the future of relationships between people as well as between people and institutions.

2014 also seems like the perfect time to approach these subjects as AIGA roles out a new strategy for this millennium. As the organization reaches out to new audiences to communicate the value of design, the “Gain” conference is the start of a new conversation among our communities. It’s also an invitation to those designers who don’t recognize themselves by this title, yet practice “creative problem-solving” or use their creative intelligence to make a difference in their own organizations and lives.

The “Gain: AIGA Design and Business Conference” is an opportunity to start a wider discussion of what design can do to create change in the world at an organizational level. This means: service designers, strategists, marketers, leaders, managers, engineers, developers of products and services as well as business models and policy, and of course, communications of all types.

We’ve designed “Gain” to not only discuss new topics and understand new possibilities but also to gain new skills and build connections to our peers both inside and outside of the design industry.

We’ve confirmed great thinkers like Hunter Lovins and Douglas Rushkoff, government innovators like Christian Bason and Jake Dunagan, policy designers like Susan Mac Cormac, futurists like Brian David Johnson, educators and economists like Roger Martin and Joel Podolny and the best people we can find to discuss design leadership, like Bob Dunham, Kaaren Hanson and Christopher Ireland. Many of these speakers may not be familiar to you yet (and to some extent, that’s exactly the point) but trust us. They represent the tops in their fields.

Our on-stage collaborators will bring new perspectives to our community and hopefully, carry design ideas back to theirs.

We’ve also planned workshops on strategy, ethnographic research, leadership, negotiations and funding to provide you valuable new skills for change, not merely for the craft of design. And we’re hosting a roundtable on redesigning design education. Check out the full schedule for more information.

I hope you’ll join this exciting conversation in New York City this October and even if you can’t, I hope you’ll take a moment to think about 2015—and the years thereafter—and the role you’ll play in designing the future.

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