Future business needs process intelligence
At WDKA’s ‘Redesigning Business’ symposium last Thursday evening in Rotterdam, I was seated in between two Master students of Business and Media, and a woman who confidently introduced herself to me as an entrepreneur. As a graphic design student with little commercial experience, I wondered if I was not a little out of place.
But it turned out that ‘Redesigning Business’ was just as much about business models as it was about design practices. The program was an exciting mix of creative leaders from all manner of disciplines. Actually, it was the perfect place for a young designer to be.
Moderated by Bart Cosijn, founder of Urban Dialogue, the symposium began with a welcome by initiator Iris Schutten (Social Practices, WDKA), who immediately addressed the main question of the evening: How are ongoing contemporary developments affecting and changing the way we do business? And how can designers and artists really contribute to new economic models?
Difficult questions to answer, but the keynote speakers responded with optimism, using their own experiences in design and business to explore the theme. ‘Humanistic innovator’ Pieter Haasnoot kicked things off by talking about the changing contexts and shifting paradigms of our society, highlighting how recent developments in technology are leading to business innovation. He posited that we are moving from a results-oriented economy to a process-oriented economy and that old, top-down business models were designed for maximum efficiency, while today’s societal problems demand more collaborative, networked models that support learning.
It is about the process
Elaborating on this idea, South African architect Duzan Doepel and designer Annelys de Vet both gave engaging talks on how architecture, design and social projects can benefit from a more circular and inclusive economy. A project like the Haka Recycle Office in Rotterdam made for an example of how Doepel believes we can close the cycle of supply and demand in the building of our cities. That goes much further than just recycling materials or reducing waste, said Doepel. It is about redesigning the entire process, from financing to client relationships to the workers you hire. ‘It’s process intelligence that will get us through the 21st century,’ he said
For Annelys de Vet, initiator of the design label ‘Disarming Design from Palestine’, closing the cycle means working with local artisans, students and craftsmen to present products from Palestine that reflect the climate in the region. Though the final collection of objects is always as beautiful as thought-provoking, it is again the process and not the product, which takes centre stage for De Vet.
Less attention on stuff, and more on platforms and networks, then, seemed to be the overarching mantra of the evening. WikiHouse and Architecture00’s Joost Beunderman was quick to remind us, however, that this emerging trend isn’t about pitting capitalism against social design. Though power does need to shift from the few to the many in what he calls the ‘civic economy’, profit isn’t the enemy. ‘Finance is part of it. But finance is changing. The next challenge we have is to find business models that are sustainable in the long term.’
Social designer and ‘change manager’ Andre Schamine, founder of SOCIALDESIGNFORWICKEDPROBLEMS, focused his talk on just that, and especially on implementing real, systemic change in the public sector. Trying to change the workflows and mindsets of corporations and public institutions is not easy, he said, but he’s optimistic – especially when designers become involved.
Role of the designer
I left the symposium feeling much more engaged and interested in business than ever before. I’ve long been aware of the expanding role of the designer in society and championed the idea that creative skills and approaches are not only useful but also necessary in tackling some of the world’s most wicked problems. But art and money have been awkward friends at best (or at least, that’s the old adage) and I hadn’t thought of the important role my discipline could play in the world of economics. I think I’ll start now. Better late than never, right?