A gift from Adobe

Happy New Year to all RGD members and our DesignThinkers blog readers.

RGD and Adobe want to thank you for your support for this forum. In the past few months, we have focused on topics from the DesignThinkers 2010 conference to extend the conversation beyond the event. To kick start the year, we want to hear your passionate ideas, to understand what you want us to explore and how we can help you continue to break new grounds and unleash your creativity.

Please send us any topics you want to read, speakers you want to see at DesignThinkers 2011 and ideas that you want to discuss. We want to continue to make this blog relevant to you.

We also want to help you increase your productivity by offering you a chance to win a copy of the brand new Adobe Acrobat X Pro Edition. Anyone who sends us a suggestion for this blog will have a chance to win.

Deadline for submission is February 11. Simply leave your ideas as a comment here. We look forward to hearing from you.

Eric Tang for Adobe in Canada


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DesignThinkers expands its horizons beyond portfolios to focus on ideas and dialogue

As someone who has been part of the DesignThinkers conferences from the very beginning – including participating in the planning when I was president of RGD Ontario – it has been interesting to witness the evolution of this event, especially in the last few years.

In the early years, many designers, particularly the younger ones, wanted to see and be inspired by famous graphic designers and their portfolios. So in the early days, the conference had a strong ‘portfolio show’ aspect to it, with notable designers showcasing their most compelling projects and telling interesting anecdotes about them.

The organizers of the conference over the years have worked hard to take things beyond this focus on the craft of design and toward thinking that is at its heart, so as to establish and drive dialogue on the broader areas of communication and branding.

This year, the 11th for DesignThinkers, clearly illustrated to me just how far we have come in that respect, with the proof being the diverse array of speakers and topics covered.

DesignThinkers 2010 showed that this conference has clearly arrived as a forum, one that goes beyond just looking at other designer’s work, in order to serve as an important crossroads for design ideas, dialogue and insights. I used to typically hear delegates remark: “Wow, did you see that guy’s work?” Today I hear comments like: “Those are amazing new ideas that could actually change the way I do business.”

That’s an evolution that represents significant progress. In the last few short years – and this year in particular – we have sounded a new note in terms of presenting a diverse array of industry-leading thinkers and ideas. It’s not that we ignored this element in earlier years but, to a large degree, it was more a matter of many people not feeling they could fully understand how a broader focus was of benefit to their growth and business.

But the profession has indeed become more sophisticated over the last decade and we are now ready to fully embrace this broader thinking. We have come of age, if you will, and today the conference simply has to be seen as a fixture on the North American circuit of design conferences.

DesignThinkers is certainly now a must-go event for professionals in our field. Each year we are now seeing a couple of speakers who are onto something really new and sharing their experiences and ideas with the rest of us.

Interestingly enough, not only is the event driving a new level of buzz within the industry, it’s also creating new levels of excitement among the speakers themselves. We are hearing more and more from them about how DesignThinkers has become an important conference that continues to attract interest among the industry’s top names.

DesignThinkers is now broader and richer than ever in terms of its approach and content and that bodes extremely well for the future. As the industry continues to grow and evolve, there is no doubt that the conference will continue to build on its reputation and brand as a highlight of the design conference calendar.

JOHN FURNEAUX R.G.D. is Managing Director for Toronto-based Identica Branding and Design, and Past-President of RGD Ontario.

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Dalhousie Medical School brings design thinking into its strategic planning process for the first time

When I arrived at Dalhousie University’s Faculty of Medicine just over a year ago, my first task was to deliver a strategic plan for one of Canada’s leading medical schools – a complex organization of more than 1,700 faculty and 1,000 students, with stakeholders as diverse as clinical faculty, basic scientists, students, staff, funders, and affiliated teaching hospitals.

Strategic alignment in the academic world is a true challenge, often described as “herding seagulls.” Furthermore, I was dealing with some real constraints and a tight deadline.

As a graduate of the MBA program at U of T’s Rotman School of Management, I took on the role of Associate Dean of Operations and Policy as someone exposed to design thinking, thanks in part to the influence of Rotman dean Roger Martin. His view is that traditional businesses and organizations rely too exclusively on analytical thinking in their decision-making and strategy. To truly innovate and flourish, organizations need design thinking, which provides the perfect balance between analytical and intuitive thinking.

Faculties of medicine are among the most complex, multi-layered and difficult organizations to organize or do planning for. And unlike the business world, where design thinking is making inroads, in the academic world the approach remains largely a foreign concept.

Yet it occurred to me that within Dalhousie’s large and complex medical school, design thinking could indeed be applied in our efforts both to drive excellence in management and promote action in the organization. On the premise that good design thinking creates clarity out of complexity, I decided to bring design thinking into our own education realm as an innovation.

Our goal was to create a simple plan that – unlike previous multi-page, text heavy plans – would be easy for people to use and really clarify what we were attempting to communicate at the school. We needed a single tool that would get us all planning in the same direction while telling a single, unified story to our audiences. We needed to articulate clearly what the faculty of medicine is, what do we do, what we can deliver, and what are we committed to delivering.

After a series of focused and interactive retreats, we came up with a completely new planning tool – a one-page strategic plan that combines key elements of design thinking, in terms of looking across organizational silos, focusing on action, being mindful of process, collaborating across boundaries and mapping out dialogue.
Design thinking gave us an entirely new type of strategic plan – titled The Way Forward – that in a single-page synthesizes many diverse conversations, initiatives and activities to effectively articulate our school’s history, our story and our value proposition. We are proud of the results, which you can view for yourself at http://strategicplan.medicine.dal.ca/ on the Dalhousie web site.

Our design-thinking-based strategic plan has been in place for just over one year and continues to receive an excellent response. In fact, we are now getting inquiries from other organizations – both within and beyond the academic world – that want to know how we did it and how design thinking might apply to their own organizations.

Dalhousie University’s first foray into design thinking has been a unique and exciting journey and it is one that is sure to continue.

DIANE GORSKY is Associate Dean of Operations and Policy in the Faculty of Medicine at Dalhousie University and attended her first DesignThinkers in 2010.

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Design Thinking – more important now than ever

The first page of the program for DesignThinkers 2010 proclaims that “Design thinking has never been more important.” I could not agree more with that sentiment. And I would also go a step further to say that the annual conference itself has never been more important for those of us in the design field.

To my mind, there is no event in Canada today to compare to RGD’s annual DesignThinkers conference and this year’s gathering proved my point once again. RGD Ontario put on another excellent event, featuring a stellar lineup of international designers, creatives and business people who all brilliantly shared their work, insights and ideas.

Each year, DesignThinkers brings together design professionals and others in our field to really focus on the industry, the culture, the impressive work being done, the day-to-day issues of being a graphic design professional, the latest trends, what’s ahead. The topics examined by speakers and delegates alike are endless and all equally fascinating.

I have become an ardent advocate for DesignThinkers and I encourage colleagues in the design field to attend each year. I also make every effort to bring employees with me to share in what I see as a rich and rewarding professional experience. This year, five members of my own firm attended and we all saw great value in the conference.

The 2010 conference coincidentally tied in quite nicely for me with the stage that I now find myself at in my career. I am a new business owner and it was extremely helpful this year to hear from others – both speakers and delegates at the two-day event – on how they are addressing the challenges, issues, questions and trends that those of us running businesses are facing today.

As for my favorite session, it is hard to name one but I particularly enjoyed the talk by John Bielenberg titled Thinking Wrong, Doing Right – in which he encouraged us to “think wrong” in order to cast off embedded assumptions and approach design from a completely fresh perspective.

The projects that John is now involved in to help others through the work he does is truly inspiring. When you hear from people like that – and from so many others with so much to offer – you realize what a privilege it is to have an annual event and forum like DesignThinkers.

BEN HAGON R.G.D., Creative Director, Hagon Design Inc. of Kitchener, ON who attended his 8th DesignThinkers conference in 2010

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PDF, Flash, Accessibility and recent Canadian Ruling

Our Adobe colleague Andrew Kirkpatrick commented on the recent Canadian federal court ruling on web site accessibility . He pointed out that contrary to the ruling and to the article, most screen readers can read PDF and Flash files.

Andrew’s blog can be found here. He also listed a few resources on authoring that may be of interests to designers.

* Dreamweaver (HTML authoring): http://www.adobe.com/accessibility/products/dreamweaver/index.html
* Acrobat (PDF authoring): http://www.adobe.com/accessibility/products/acrobat/
* Flash Professional (Flash authoring): http://www.adobe.com/accessibility/products/flash/

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Converting your clients into design thinkers

For design thinking to really succeed, it’s not enough today for designers alone to be the design thinkers. After all, that’s what we are trained to do. More challenging is helping clients – who may come from a variety of fields – become design thinkers and an integral part of the process and solutions.

We all understand just how critical collaboration between designers and clients is to our success. It only makes sense, then, that we do all we can to help clients join us on the design thinking path as we travel toward a common destination.

But that’s a formidable challenge requiring clients, and us as designers, to adopt a new thinking process. We live in a world of good clients and bad – even dysfunctional – clients. The best ones push us to do great work. The worst ones can also push us – right to the edge: the ‘micromanager’ who tells you how to do your job, the ‘waffler’ who can’t decide, the ‘wet blanket’ who trashes every idea, the ‘hidden agenda’ client who never gives you the full story on what’s needed, the ‘Scrooge’ who’s never satisfied.

It can make you feel like we are in two solitudes – which is quite true when you consider that clients and designers inhabit two very distinct worlds of problem solving: the analytical versus the intuitive and creative.

Here, then, are a few suggestions on how to transform your clients into design thinkers. The client-designer relationship needs to work if we are to succeed. So what makes for a great client-designer relationship, one that leads to design thinking clients?

Start by understanding who the real client is. Knowing who the real decision makers are -and what their real objectives are – takes time and focus. Often there’s more going on than meets the eye. Ask yourself: Do you really know who and what you are dealing with? If you do not know, find out!

The other question you need to ask yourself is: Why have you been hired? It sometimes seems obvious – a new identity, an annual report, a new brochure. But what are those things really for, what does the client hope to achieve, what’s driving the work being requested? The better you understand what you are there to do – the better the process and results. It might even lead to new solutions the client never thought of in the initial design brief.

It’s also crucial to recognize and understand the culture of the organization you are working for. How does that culture view success? How does it handle prototypes and new ideas in other parts of its business? How do the people in it prefer to get their information? And, most importantly, how does it treat its own people? Understanding your client’s organization raises everyone’s potential for a successful relationship, because you can customize how you interact with their culture.

Finally, focus on the criteria for success. Sometimes these are never clearly articulated. So develop criteria with the client, articulate them, and use them both as the basis for the design team to develop and review options, and for the client to select options based on the set criteria. Remember – liking something is only one criteria. Never ask, “Which one do you like?” Instead ask, “Which one meets the criteria?”

Transforming good clients into great ones – and bad clients into good ones – is not easy but it is indeed a worthwhile undertaking. You might not always succeed but you will be surprised at times by the results of your efforts to lead clients on the quest for design thinking.

LEE JACOBSON head of Lee Jacobson Consultants in Toronto and one of Canada’s leading brand, marketing and communications strategists.

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DesignThinkers – the ultimate ‘connection’ to inspiring ideas

We have so many ways to ‘keep in touch’ instantaneously today, thanks to the web, mobile phones, email, text messaging, intranets – the list just keeps growing. It’s all great, of course. But to me, nothing compares with hearing someone speak in person about timely topics, issues, trend and ideas, then having the luxury of a live discussion with others on what you’ve just witnessed.

That to me has been the essence of my experience in attending DesignThinkers conferences over the years. Each gathering represents a uniquely valuable opportunity both to connect with the design community and to hear the opinions and ideas of leading designers, design educators and business people working in Canada, the U.S. and Europe.

Despite new communications channels, technologies and connections emerging all around us – and perhaps because of that phenomenon – it’s too easy today to become insular in our work, narrowly focusing on our own immediate projects, clients, deadlines, issues and challenges.

We should never lose sight of the need to reach out and discover what others are doing, thinking and saying as they address similar issues and challenges that affect each of us daily. DesignThinkers in that sense is the ultimate way to connect and communicate, a hugely powerful forum to examine and explore – together and in person! – our endlessly changing realities.

Sustainability. Green practices. The economy. Trends in the business. Emerging technologies. Unique initiatives. Each year, there are new issues and topics for DesignThinkers to examine. And I have yet to discover a better place to find inspiring answers, solutions and ideas.

Consider the concept of DesignThinking itself. I believe we will all look back in a few years and realize that today we are in the infancy of DesignThinking – a concept that for most of us remains – dare I say it – somewhat confusing. Why the confusion?

Think about it. Academics are trying – struggling? – to apply a formula or matrix to the whole notion of ‘how a designer works.’ No easy task. At the same time, businesses are hearing more about DesignThinking as a valuable business-friendly concept that’s gaining momentum – and they want to learn more. Meanwhile, the design community, having gained the spotlight with this innovate concept, has yet to fully articulate or clearly define what it all means to the various players and potential participants.

So we are still figuring it all out. Yes, it’s a bit perplexing at the moment. But I’d say we are getting closer to a true definition of DesignThinking. Personally, I’m absolutely intrigued by our search for an answer. And with that in mind, I’m already look forward to what next year’s conference will have to offer.

BOB HAMBLY is Creative Director, Hambly and Woolley Inc., Toronto, and a Board member of RGD Ontario.

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