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11 Jul

Book review: Universal Methods of Design

In Blog by Bianca Bressy / July 11, 2019 / 0 Comments

Book review "Universal Methods of Design"

Book review: Universal Methods of Design


Publisher: Rockport
Year: 2012
Pages: 208


Technical · structured · in depth


BRUCE HANINGTON is associate professor and director in the School of Design at Carnegie Mellon University, Pennsylvania. BELLA MARTIn is a designer practitioner and independent consultant with a Master of Design from CMU.

Goals (what’s inside)

This handbook offers a list of 100 methods from all design phases, with characteristics and links to further reference. But the scope goes beyond that: as the authors state, it’s not “just” a list – it’s a tool to structure efficient and productive conversations in each phase of the design project, by providing a universal language for practitioners to easily communicate and co-create.

Values (why we love it)

The infographics & alphabetical order help quickly narrow down the most useful techniques for a project or session. No need to read from start to finish – you can “hop on or off” wherever you need!

Needs (read if you…)

  • … need a quick reference guide before a session
  • … want a range of options to choose from before planning your next design phase
05 Jul

SEYW Project: 1st staff training event in Cagliari, June 2019

In Blog by Benjamin G. Coles / July 5, 2019 / 1 Comment

SEYW project, our first training in Cagliari, June 2019

In February Art Square asbl, together with five like-minded partner organisations from other countries around Europe (Italy, France, Luxembourg, Estonia, Bulgaria, Greece), started an exciting new project, intended to examine how the practices and ethos of social entrepreneurship can be of value in the field of youth work.

The project, support by Erasmus+ and set to run for two years, commenced with a week-long conference and the first training event that took place between the 10th and the 15th of June, in Cagliari, Italy, home to the coordinating organization, TDM2000.
Each participating organisation sent two representatives. I was fortunate enough to be one of those sent by Art Square asbl.

One of our major tasks, over the course of the week, was to give each other a sense of how social entrepreneurship is fairing in our respective countries, paying particular attention to how it’s defined, the laws regulating it, the institutions supporting it, and stories of our own organisations and other notable ones. TDM2000 of course had the advantage of being able to show rather than tell, and did precisely that, taking us to visit a farming cooperative and a restaurant employing ex-felons, as well as bringing in speakers from a tour group whose guides are all immigrants.

Visits to local social entreprises SEYW

Our other major task was to make a start at tackling more directly the question the project is trying answer. We researched and discussed the already-existing overlap between social entrepreneurship and youth work – the skill-sets required in both, the kinds of professions operating on the border between the two, and the efforts being made in our countries and others to involve each in the other.

In the final two days, we worked in smaller groups to summarise all these initial findings of ours in a report, soon to be distributed to policy makers, youth workers and the wider public.

I certainly learnt a lot during the event, including many things that surprised me. I learnt that, in Bulgaria, entrepreneurship is taught in schools from age 7, and social entrepreneurship is part of the programme. I learnt that, in France, more than 10% of the economy is made up of social enterprises, while, in Italy, there are well over a million cooperatives. I learnt that, in Greece and Spain, the 2008 financial crisis massively stimulated the growth of the social and solidary economy, though, particularly in the former, austerity measures have since undermined its progress. I learnt that, in Estonia, there is a many-tiered formal hierarchy of youth workers, while in Poland the term is used so loosely that almost anyone who works with young people is considered one. I was also able to tell others about how Luxembourg alone has, in proclaiming its support for social enterprise, gone so far as to rebrand its Employment Ministry, so that it’s full title is now the Ministry of Labour, Employment and the Social and Solidarity Economy, and also about the work of Jonk Entrepreneuren asbl, who since 2005 have been going into Luxembourgish schools to introduce children and teenagers to the idea of a career as an entrepreneur and to just generally encourage their entrepreneurial thinking.

As a student of Politics and Sociology a few years back, one of my heroes was the late, great Erik Olin Wright, who was an advocate and theorist of interstitial revolution – that is, the gradual transformation of society by means of nurturing and growing the elements of it in which justice prevails, enabling them to displace those in which exploitation and greed are the norms. I thought of Wright often while in Cagliari. What we were learning about – the growing social enterprise movement, and its increasing support by governments – looks very in line with his vision.

I very much look forward to being involved in the project over the next two years, as similar events hosted by each of the participant organisations bring forward the discussion we began in Cagliari.

Writing of the inspiration paper for the SEYW project

27 Jun

Book review: This is Service Design Doing

In Blog by Bianca Bressy / June 27, 2019 / 0 Comments

Book review of "This is Service Design Doing"Book review: This is Service Design Doing


Publisher: O’Reilly Media
Year: 2018
Pages: 541


Knowledgeable · practical · thoughtful


As with all design thinking processes, this book too is the co-creation of a formidable team (4 editors, 96 co-authors and 205 contributors) coming from the global service design community.

Goals (what’s inside)

What is service design? Or, to quote the authors – “why” service design? This handbook provides a deeply comprehensive introduction to the subject, from the theory behind service design to its main tools and activities, as well as case studies, facilitation tips for workshops and implementation into organizations. A journey from theory to practice, to understand not just the “what”, but the “why” of service design.

Values (why we love it)

It gives plenty of real-life examples of how service design was implemented in companies, organizations and institutions from start to finish.

Needs (read if you…)

  • … want to see what service design looks in practice
  • … want to start implementing service design in your company
  • … want to discover the essential tools of service design
22 Mar

Designing Systems Thinking (Pt. 1)

In Blog by Bianca Bressy / March 22, 2019 / 0 Comments

What if?

What if you could have a glimpse of the future just by looking around?

We love numbers. They look so concrete, so easy to understand. But they only tell one part of the story, and not necessarily the story we’ll see in our life. Truth is, when we speak about trends, we are talking of large-scale motions, like the plates drifting under the Earth, and how these motions will affect life on the surface will depend on which plates are interacting, and in which specific places. The trend is one, but its translations are many.

After all, trend researchers talk of futures thinking. They know that multiple possibilities can coexist at the same time, especially when they are just seeds. We can’t predict with absolute certainty which ones will grow and how. But what we can do is spot the sprouts near us and understand how they could interact with our life.

Look outside. How do people dress? What do they do in their free time? What do you see emerge in technology, health, values? What kind of futures are popping up in your life now – and how is your life already changing because of them?

A look into the future

As the world’s complexity grows, being able to understand systems is quickly becoming one of the key skills to thrive, both at work and in life. In a recent report on lead learners and the new work-learn paths, for example, the Institute for the Future identified sense-making as one of the five performance zones where workers will have to hone their skills. Specifically, sense-making will take different approaches: creating stories from complex data, building frameworks for activities and visualizing whole systems to coordinate, guide and support our work.

The focus moves from the elements of a system to their relationships. We already saw a glimpse of it in the rise of transdisciplinarity and new kinds of knowledge-building. In the mental health field, where I work, systemic and narrative therapy consider the context and relationships of each client as fundamental factors to address to solve the client’s issue. In the social field, activists are raising awareness of intersectionality as a better way to address social issues. As they are pointing out, classical models of oppression (based on ethnicity, gender, religion etc.) don’t act independently of each other, but interact and create systems of oppression that are different for each individual. (For example, women of color experience both race- and gender-based oppression and thus their experiences will differ from those of white women.)

Social-ecological model of community development

In natural sciences, an ecosystem always include living and non-living organisms and considers how they interact with each other. Similarly, we have to consider both physical and non-physical factors in analyzing a system. A big, growing trend such as longevity can play quite differently in a country where the average age is 30, or in a country where culture considers older people valuable experts and members of their community. Humans act not only on what they see, but also what they feel, think, believe.

Discovering environments

Elements of a system may take different shapes, but we have to look under the surface to discover what actually connects them. For example, trend researcher Els Dragt talks of “spots” – sparkles of futures, popping up in fields far from each other – that apparently are unrelated, but subtly connected by the invisible threads of the values and needs they express.

Similarly, in design thinking we take the environment (social, professional, financial etc.) into account at each step of the process. When we speak with users, we go deeper to see how other people and things may be contributing to the problems we want to solve – influences that the user themselves may not be aware of.

Even in the end, upon implementing the final result of the design process, we still have to consider the system. To put something innovative in an already stable environment is a delicate move, a play of constant adjustments and analysis of how people and environment alike are reacting to innovation. Sometimes, the original idea may not survive. But when the system is motivated from within to change, innovation can infuse new vitality and dynamic energy into everyone.

The dimensions of systems thinking

To sum up, if we want to work with a system, we have to remember that we are dealing with a living entity – living, because it’s constantly changing. This can be particularly upsetting. Why? Because it means that, whatever idea or solution we introduce into the system, it won’t last forever. Our own interventation will kickstart a change, and as a result new questions will arise.

And yet, this can be freeing. It means that there is no “one right way” to solve a challenge. It means that we don’t have to get it right the first time, or else we will have failed. Unfortunately, this is exactly what many of us learnt in school – that there is one answer, one way, one path. But the world doesn’t work with this same clarity. Again, this can prove challenging – but design thinking teaches us that adapting is essential to good design. More than skills, it’s the attitude, the mindset that counts.

For educators, youth workers, teachers – for those who want to help young people get ready for the path –, this means staying attuned to both the local community and the global context, because how changes will affect us will depend on where we live. To adapt means to keep our eyes and ears to the ground, where the seeds of the future are popping up, and find ways to nurture them, together – as it happened with an innovative school in South America.

P.S. For a complete list of the articles in this series, please read here.

04 Mar

Designing Creativity (Pt. 2)

In Blog by Bianca Bressy / March 4, 2019 / 0 Comments

To create, from *ker- "to grow", to make or bring into existence something new

In 2011, something extraordinary happened in Seattle. The Tulalip Elementary School, attended at 90% by Native children, in just one year had transformed from the worst school of their district to the top one. During that year, Tulalip member and Native education researcher Dr. Stephanie Fryberg had applied the growth mindset work of Carol Dweck. As it turned out, it changed everything.

Carol Dweck’s discovery is simple, and because of that, even more impressive. Basically, when it comes to talents and skills, people have two mindsets. One says that either you have a talent from birth or you don’t have it. Shakespeare, Mozart, Leonardo? They were born genius. But the other mindset says, “I don’t have that talent yet.” It says that talents can be developed and nurtured over time. The first one will keep us in place, but the second one will teach us how to grow.

And mistakes are the place where our mindset becomes crystal clear.

Searching for feedback

In 2010, in Massachussets, a group of PhDs of the MTI launched the NuVu Studio: an innovation school whose pedagogy rests on the Studio Model (a framework for self-organizing teams) and multi-disciplinary, collaborative projects. Concretely, every two weeks groups of 12 students move into a transdisciplinary studio, where they work on solving together a specific challenge. At the end of each studio, they add the project to their portfolio and frequent check-ins with the teachers ensure that students understand and reflect on their own development.

The Universal Arm from NuVu Studio on Vimeo.

These studios tackle complex, real-world, “messy” problems, which require students to continuously refine their prototypes according to the feedback they get from each experiment. The presence of a coach is fundamental to make sense of these observations, as well as to foster the student’s growth, and create what they call a “critique culture.” The goal is to help them see feedback as an essential part of creativity and learning, instead of a judgement of their worth.

“At first, critique felt like a personal attack. Eventually, I realized the coaches are critiquing my ideas, not me. […] At my old schools, your work was either right or wrong. There was no revision, and nothing was about the real world.”

But the real world is present in the studio, and students seek its feedback. Instead of worrying about grades, they are encouraged to stay with their mistakes and gather something useful from them. The fact that these challenges are complex, and require multiple skills to be solved, isn’t just a way to show how specific kinds of knowledge can be applied in a practical way. They also teach students to check in with the context. The real world isn’t just present – it’s always interrogated and integrated in the creative project. Their ideas interact with the world, and this interaction makes them stronger and more innovative.

The world is your teacher

The connection between schools and books is so ingrained in our minds, that we sometimes forget how people learnt in the past. In the Renaissance, for example, future craftsmen and artists learnt from the masters in their studio or bottega, proper workrooms, with few books to read and a collection of tools requiring mastery.

Schools like NuVu or the Studio Schools in the UK, but also project- and inquiry-based pedagogies, are rediscovering the value of a studio approach. The studio offered a perfect learning environment, not only because students received continuous feedback on their work, but because the studio was immersed in the city or town it was operating into.

Apprentices didn’t work on abstract projects, but on real commissions, coming from real people. Thus, the studio was connected to the real world and its needs, as well as its changes and innovations. Masters used their expertise to guide students in their learning process, but didn’t directly imbue them with their knowledge. It was the world the one to teach students, one task at a time, what their skills concretely meant.

From dreaming to making

We are now back to the initial question. How can we help students get ready for jobs (and fields!) they don’t even know yet?

This requires more than good observational skills. We can spot chances as they emerge, but if we interact with the world around us we can create opportunities for ourselves. Only from these interactions we can generate new ideas, because we will have a context to create around and into. And only by testing them in the context – only by engaging the real world, with small prototypes and experiments – we can learn if and how they work, and adjust our trajectory accordingly. This is what design thinking teaches – to replace fear of the mistake with the curiosity of experimentation.

This is how we can design creativity – by using small and smart iterations to check with the world and guide our imagination towards something that others, too, will find creative. And it’s an invitation to imagine a creativity that designs, a creativity that’s not just pure imagination but engages with the world it wants to innovate.


P.S. For a complete list of the articles in this series, please read here.