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Thinking about design

03/06/17  4:20 PM 

My blog topics usually arise from the week preceding Sunday – blog writing day. This week's looks in both directions. Back at last week's idea and forward into next week's event.

Looking forward: next Wednesday March 8 is International Women's Day and yesterday I opted to #BeBoldForChange ticking on their website the boxes that I would forge women's advancement and champion women's education. Both much needed.

Just after having done that I picked up a book, lying around the house, 'What makes great design: 80 masterpieces explained'. Hmm - a couple of thoughts crossed my mind as I skimmed through it: where are the women designers and how inherently biased language is. Look at the book title 'masterpieces'. That is a male word. There are no 'mistresspieces', and 'masterpieces' isn't noticeably gender neutral. Out of 80 'master designers' there are 6 women. That 7.5%.

Looking back: I picked up the book because last week we had the idea that we would see what the interest was in designing a multi-disciplinary 'design function' to work on organisational wicked problems: a flexible function that would include business architects, service designers, customer experience designers, graphic designers, strategy designers, organisation designers, and so on. Put differently, it would draw on anyone who could identify with the idea that they have design thinking skills developed through training and/or use in some field.

So, I was just generating my thinking on what typically comprises 'design' and how we might design and operate that function. Then I pulled out another book. Design: a very short introduction. It's one I recommended to students when I taught on the Design Strategy MBA.

Immediately I got from it a powerful statement on 'design' that is a touchstone for a design function. 'Design is ... an essential determinant of the quality of human life. It affects everyone in every detail of every aspect of what they do throughout each day. As such, it matters profoundly.' Think about it. We are all working all the time in a designed world – keyboards, websites, door handles, business processes, organisations ... the list goes on and on and on. Log everything you interact with in the next hour that has been designed and you get the picture.

And interestingly when we came to generate a list of names of people who might be interested in exploring the idea of a design function they were also predominantly male: it may be that we live in a male designed world.

Bridging the two weeks
So today I have in my mind some questions that bridge design and International Women's Day. Would our designed world look and feel different if there were more female designers in it? Where are the female designers by discipline? How can we design a useful design function that shows gender parity? Is the language of design gender biased – in favour of men?

I Googled 'women in design'. Two sites came up Women in Design, New Mexico, and Women in Design, Harvard Graduate School of Design, @WID_GSD. I'm sure there are others but I didn't delve beyond page one.

If I am serious in my ticking the #BeBoldForChange boxes on forging women's advancement and championing women's education, then the field of design and specifically organisation design might be a great start point.

One immediate way that I and all of us in the organisation design field could do this is by engaging our policy and finance colleagues in the idea of re#designing their processes and methodologies to include gender reporting and budgeting. This helps forge women's advancement. 'Gender budgeting is a way for governments to promote equality through fiscal policy. It involves analysing a budget's differing impacts on men and women and allocating money accordingly, as well as setting targets-—such as equal school enrolment for girls-—and directing funds to meet them'.

To champion women's design education I could work with education organisations to bring design thinking to change the way education is done. And/or I could mentor women who wanted to go into organisation and other design fields. For example, see how women are being encouraged into industrial design in Australia.

So, there are many possibilities. How would you bridge (organisation) design and gender equality? Let me know.

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