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When Planners Design, We All Win

16 July, 2019

By Kristin Agnello, CAP Women in Planning Coordinator and CAP Vice-President, Canadian Institute of Planners

“To inspire designers—too long the servants of producers—to better serve humanity as the ambassadors of the end-users: the citizens of the world.”   

~Montreal Design Declaration, 2017

Nestled in the heart of the Cité du Design, the room is buzzing with debate, deliberation, and innovation. To my left sits a graphic designer and to my right, a social design researcher - both engaged in the debate about the future of design and what it means for society. Professionals, academics, government and privately-funded researchers, and nonprofit design organizations – representing a wide-variety of disciplines – are gathered at the Design Declaration Pre-Summit Meetings in Saint-Étienne to discuss the world’s most wicked problems and the role of design in solving them. Pressing and highly complex, wicked problems have multiple causal factors and high levels of disagreement about the nature of the problems – and the approach to addressing them.

Flashback to October 2017, when delegates from 22 international organizations, representing over  500,000 creative professionals – met for the first time to discuss design as a driver of innovation, growth, development, and prosperity. This inaugural World Design Summit Meeting in Montréal concluded with the ratification of the unprecedented Montréal Design Declaration in the presence of three UN agencies. The Declaration proclaims the potential of design to achieve global economic, social, environmental and cultural objectives and marks the first time that the design community - across disciplines - began speaking with one voice.

The Design Declaration Pre-Summit Meeting that took place in Saint-Étienne in April 2019 represents the first milestone on a path toward realizing the aspirational goals and vision outlined the Montréal Design Declaration. This meeting focused on the development and deliberation of three key projects that were identified as highest priority by the Declaration Signatories in a recent internal survey: design metrics; design research and education; and government design policy.

Design Metrics Too often, planning and design discourse is bogged down with jargon, technical details, and industry-specific references. But, how we articulate design intent is critical to conveying the value of design to society. Conversations must begin early and include everyone in society, utilizing metrics that are relevant to designers and non-designers alike. By not adequately conveying the value of planning and design, non-designers may undervalue the role and potential of design for social transformation, and – perhaps more importantly – underestimate the social and economic costs of bad design.

Design Research and Education Design thinking is increasingly being recognized in business, government, and beyond, as a core skill and a key indicator of success. The time has come to ensure that design education adequately equips professionals with the skills necessary to take on management and governance roles. There is currently a significant gap between academia and practice in the design disciplines and discussions are underway about how to address this gap through mentorship, co-operative work terms, and reimagined educational approaches. If creativity and innovation are to be valued, then we must prepare our students and professionals with the skills needed for them to be valuable.

Government Design Policy If design is to be leveraged worldwide to improve the lives of everyone, everywhere, then perhaps it is time to reevaluate the policy directions that impact – and are impacted by – our government leaders, funding agencies, and agents of change. To create an international design policy – by designers for designers – that embraces intersectionality and drives social and spatial change could address specific challenges in design standards, nomenclature, evaluation, and education. However, to be effective, such a policy would require a powerful cohort of leaders who will champion the power and potential of design in all disciplines and discussions.

The Design Declaration and the Future of Planning Reflecting upon the discussions that took place at both the World Design Summit Meeting in Montréal and the Design Declaration Pre-Summit Meeting in Saint-Etienne, there is great potential to leverage planning and design to confront social and economic inequities and address environmental concerns. It cannot be understated that the environmental and social emergencies that we are facing have prompted an urgency that has never before been articulated in our profession: we cannot build our way out of disaster once it has occurred.

Planning needs to remain a forward thinking profession, driven by innovation, intersectional collaboration, and creative exploration. If the heart of design and invention is prototyping, perhaps there is an opportunity to approach planning – and through it, the wicked problems of the world – within a mindset of exploration, experimentation, and critical reflection.  

“Because everyone deserves to live in a well-designed world.”

For more information about the Design Declaration Summits, please click here.

Click here to read the Montreal Design Declaration

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