I'm revamping a 30-year-old Nationwide trailer into a mobile sauna/camper I call "The Freedom Capsule"_. This has been a 6-year dream, and finally, the pieces and people showed up to make it a reality. I mention this personal project on a business blog because I always learn something valuable about the reuse/recycling markets with my art/building projects.
This time, the lesson was at the Pick n' Pull and the Wild Cat Mopars both parts dealers, or junkyards. This is an old idea and a simple system of reuse, but what struck me this time, was how this process could be more effective to increase reuse and my service experience. I saw a job creation opportunity that I think would pencil out. Instead of me going in with my tools to pull parts myself with no incentive to be careful not to ruin other parts, I would have loved to browse what parts were available and/or already pulled for me either in person or online. Wild Cat was close to this model of service. You could walk their organized and interesting yard and point out the part you wanted to them and they would remove it for you with much more skill and finesse. They did this for people calling them from around the world and had a robust online business.
The difference between the services provided by these two organizations shows in my experience observing them that more reuse, jobs, and revenue are created when the service model is just right. For example, I pulled a triangle window from a 1967 Volvo, but my design changed and now I don't need it, but I can't take it back. So if I needed to get rid of it I would have to spend a lot of time to recoup my money or give it away. This shows another missed business and waste saving opportunity through a simple smart service redesign. Many businesses and organizations will say they don't have time for any changes to their systems, but that is like saying you don't have time to stop and refill your gas tank but you want to keep driving.
This is a simple example but I hope it gets you thinking about tweaking your service design to build in less waste and hassle by looking at who is ultimately incentivized to care about your assets and what risk can you and should you manage. Do it yourself isn't always the answer, especially if you are caught in not seeing your service process from the angle of a new customer.
We are not designing the world to deal with the mental illness we are creating in it.
The french air traffic controllers went on strike (surprise, surprise) and it caused my plane to be delayed that then caused me to miss two flights. I was trying to get to Portland, OR from Lisbon Portugal within 24 hours. This strike would extend my travels home from 20 hours to 3 days, 1500 extra dollars, and a few gray hairs I didn’t have before.
This was one of the most exhausting and stressful situations I have been involved in for many years. This experience plus my body's state at the time allowed me to experience the world sleep deprived, sick, hungry, fatigued, and frankly really pissed off because I had mentally prepared myself to be home and I wasn’t and I had to pivot immediately to re-coordinate everything in a compromised mental state. I was also navigating through Portuguese and English systems that were not familiar to me. Fortunately, the language barrier was minimized although I didn’t always understand what people were saying even in English and I’m sure they didn’t understand my United Statesian English either. (I see how whiny this is, but I'm not a trained soldier. If it gets too whiny jump down to the last few paragraphs).
In the situations of being stuck on airplanes, trying to navigate airports, calling, emailing and dealing with airplane companies with inadequate or expensive wifi, on low batteries, and check in desks that redirected me to other desks all while scrambling to find lodging just like the sea of people also trying to recalibrate. I was struck by how all these systems were not designed for users traumatized by the very system they were using or trying to navigate.
Interestingly, the French might argue the same thing which is why they went on strike. What I noticed, yet again, is that everything is connected so the poor treatment of one thing gives what it gets and it cascades to everything else, just like polluted water.
I was able to change plans quickly because I had a little battery left on my computer and a kind Portuguese flight attendant created a hot spot for me using his personal phone. I immediately asked my family to help me knowing I didn’t have much time left or a decent way to connect to the airline offices via email or cell phone. I did manage to call via Skype and switch tickets on my international flight. At the last moment, everything changed yet again and the pilot announced that they were able to leave a little bit earlier now. WHAT?! This meant that I may have been able to make my original flight. Oh, DANG!
When the plane finally landed in London, I tried to run to the other concourse, go through customs and security, again, and make the gate. I had a helpful pilot even run with my part of the way so I didn’t have to navigate signage. I wouldn’t have been able to find my way or know that I had to get to the other concourse without him. On top of all of this, I had taken an antihistamine a few hours before because I have been suffering from a rash and a cold. So I ran dry mouthed, itchy, late, lost, and adrenaline pumped to try to catch a plane. (This is important because many, many people are moving through the world on pharmaceuticals, many of them take them to deal with depression, pain, and hyperactivity for example.) The navigation and the layout, the signage, everything at that moment was confusing, poorly signed, there was no maps, keys or guides. The lines, rules, processes all seemed poorly organized for the various time-tables people were on. Why didn’t they have rush lines? Why wasn’t their signs that were at eye level about where you were, and which way you needed to go for help or information? Where was the line on the floor for me to follow to the other con concourse? Why did the world make the assumption that everyone had wifi or cell phones to help them navigate systems now? Why were the colors of the signs the same when the functions of them were different (way-finding vs. shopping)? How would I navigate if I was really old or young, not able-bodied, etc?
It’s not a new concept that all these desperate companies and designers take their little slice and add it to a system like an airport. (This is the segmentation and linear thinking we are trying to change to collaborative and systems thinking.) But for the user having to experience each layer in a system and in an experience, especially in a mindset altered by the experience, the process is disjointed, hellacious, confusing, and crazy making.
The most pathetic part of was having to visually and mentally decipher and filter the advertisements versus the way- finding. The airports were cages of consumption with jacked up prices and I was stuck with the options. What was really driving the design of this system then? Consumption, shopping, spending money, could this be a root cause of poor design?
I was really grateful for this experience because I gained, even more, empathy, awareness of access and economic barriers, mobility consciousness, and the need for designing systems to address the trauma that the systems we navigate create. Let's not design a system that creates or amplifies a traumatic outcome. If the users, (especially the Earth as a user) is put in a traumatized state after the use of the designed system, service, or product some things needs to be addressed differently than how it was created and pronto.
Let's take a close look at the top mental illnesses in the modern world and create places, systems, and experiences, that provide the antidote to what it is in the modern world that creates these illnesses. This is how design, service design, and space creation can be healing. This might just be what keeps loyal customers willing to support your support of them. We can and should start everywhere especially in our public spaces, where the need for universal or "public-friendly" design is the greatest. Cities, urban planners, developers, corporations, administrations, bureaucracies, can check in deeper with what they are really creating - stress and cumulative mental illness maybe? We can design for life, not just money.
I use design thinking as a way to work within a process to problem solve for social and ecological challenges. It is a container that helps me focus my natural systems thinking ability while it creates boundaries for ideation to turn into activation. I discovered this process while making art, designing products, and creating programs for non-profits and organizations wanting to incorporate sustainability into their company or projects. Over the years, the public has put "the green focus" on recycling and doing less bad, but I have always felt that you have to work on the front end and design things to be eco-efficient or built to last for the get go and not give folks the opportunity to behave unsustainably. The industrial design community is having this conversation about moving away from just an aesthetic form focus to incorporating an ethos and design with more substance. This article is written by designer Thomas Wendt and he speaks to what has been missing in the design world. http://www.thedesigngym.com/toward-sustainable-design-thinking/
My gratitude to indigenous designers, Bucky Fuller, and Victor Papanek, to name a few, and the mentors that introduced me to their thought leadership.
My business partner and I are hosting the Portland Sustainability Jam as a part of the Global Sustainability Jam because it creates a beautiful example of collective intelligence and collaborative innovation at work with a very real global sustainability problem. Many people think that innovation for solutions is a lightbulb eureka moment, but actually it is a process of building on other ideas and having existing conditions in other field develop in a way that can support a new synthesis. That's why systems thinking and process development is so important because thoughtful development of programs and products allow you to see where leverage points for innovation reside - where tweaks can be made that leave big impacts and allow you as an organization or business to build and shift gracefully.
The jam is a way to facilitate design strategies and see innovation in practice. This jam is happening for groups around the world to work on a challenge during the same 48 hours, prototype ideas, and share them. I love bringing people together from different disciplines and especially finding the tinkerers and down to earth mechanically inclined doers and go through the design thinking process. Typically, ideas come out for all types of possibilities and visions for the future about how is truly inspiring. You can host a Jam in your city too! Go here if you are interested. http://planet.globalsustainabilityjam.org
If you are in Portland over Halloween weekend and want to join the event check out this page: http://www.ecocreativestrategies.com/jam.html