1. Reflections on Daniel Szuc at IxDA Ottawa: Designing for Change


    Last night, I had the pleasure of attending an IxDA Ottawa-hosted talk by Daniel Szuc of Apogee. He came in all the way from Hong Kong, so I was lucky to notice the event somewhere on Twitter before it was too late (and I’m now following co-chair Cornelius Rachieru to stay in the loop). Daniel’s talk - Designing for Change - was intimate and engaging, involving mini break-outs, brief contributions from his partner Jo, and even a Star Wars script-reading. It’s possible that I just heard what I wanted to hear, but my impression of the subject matter, and Daniel’s conviction, were encouraging reaffirmations of my thesis topic and, more generally, the passion I have for the value of honest human-centeredness. 

    Daniel spoke of how Apogee’s collaboration with their clients is becoming more integrative, and how their contributions are increasingly intertwined with corporate strategy. I wasn’t certain of what specific change the title referred to, but I realize that this may have been intentional. The first possibility would be the organizational change of the client, shaped by their corporate strategy. Second, there are the changes that must be make by consultancies like Apogee as they acclimatize to new project definitions and client relationships. Third, Daniel stressed the importance of shaking-up your perspective, growing your frame, and being reflective. Any of the three could have constituted an entire talk about Designing for Change. Maybe the lessons was that all these changes are intertwined, and somehow synthesized through a design approach.

    In regards to the first type (organizational change of the client that is shaped by their corporate strategy), Daniel described the approach of management consultants as inhumane, and perhaps this can be traced to a neglect for the second type (change that the consultancy must make in response to the client and the emergent relationship). In contrast, Daniel says that his preferred technique for inciting change is to make people feel good about themselves. This is in natural alignment with the participatory design goals of empowerment and enablement through facilitated design methods.

    This all resonated with me because, through my thesis, I am examining the convergence of change management and design consultancies, while grounded in the decidedly design-based perspective that the MDes entails. This perspective inevitably has me looking into issues of design advocacy: how to preserve the human-centric ideals of the design process, as well as design methods, through this convergence, rather than succumbing to compromise, dilution, or retreat.

    Through his presentation, and recent articles, Daniel emphasizes the importance of design consultants’ commitment to Being Human. He provided a specific example of creating short films of research footage for clients. These “design documentaries” are presented without explicitly spelling-out the observations made by Apogee. Clients are encouraged to make such discoveries themselves, with the film as a tool, or a lens that has been applied by the facilitating designers. This fosters a “shared experience” of discovery, which fosters a more trusting relationship between the client and the designers. In my opinion, this is a great example of applying designerly human-centeredness to client engagement. I have hope for the growing relevance of my research and, in turn, finding work within a dedicated community that shares my passions.