Disruptive Design and Thinking

Redesigning the Status Quo: Disruptive Design

Paul Rodgers, who co-founded the Design Disruption Group in 2010 with Andy Tennant, Freddie Yauner and Giovanni Innella, thinks that disruption is a core function of the design process. Designers have keen observation skills and are educated to interpret data and empathize with their audience in order to fashion new design solutions. According to Rodgers, design “is one of the best tools we have to help us make sense of the contemporary complex mess we live in.”

Together with observation, design also consists of communication. In terms of disruptive design, it means manipulating visual vocabulary and language to influence and educate people in new ways. From Rodgers’ point of view, this ability to switch from analysis to synthesis represents the future of design.

And what does that future look like? According to Rodgers, it means there will be a role in society for designers that goes far beyond the creation of a new chair or table. There has never been a better time to be a designer.

The challenges now are much bigger and more important — the analytical and communication skills of designers will be sought after in all areas and there will be a move from material to immaterial projects. “Designers may not be making chairs, but policies,” he predicts.

For this to work, it is important for designers to maintain their focus on societal enhancements. “We don’t want to disrupt for the sake of disrupting,” Rodgers says. “A disruptive designer’s intention should always be to disrupt for good.”

The Three “Hows” to Think Disruptively

1. How can you bring positive change via disruptive design?
When disruptions arrive, in any field, the people involved feel a bit uncomfortable. Often they feel a little anxious because they perceive things to be out of control.
It is important for the people in charge of leading the change to monitor others closely and to empower them. We have seen organizations where everyone is creative, but the talent has been suppressed through education or work. For many, these disruptions are an opportunity for bigger changes.

2. How do you nurture creativity?
People need to feel empowered. This can be difficult at a time when everyone, from individuals to corporations, has other priorities, particularly because of the economic crisis. People are swamped with pressure. It’s important to introduce people to opportunities they have never seen.

3. How is disruptive design currently impacting our world?
Changes to our visual vocabulary and language filter through the layers of corporations and society. They create enough changes to open up new questions and challenges. This empowers individuals and encourages them to go and make change themselves. Disruptive design doesn’t inflict change; it gives people the tools they need to create change on their own.

Disruptive Design

The European Union (EU) business district in Brussels, including the European Parliament, is known for its traditional architecture with austere gray exteriors that are stately but universally plain. Or at least it was until last year when some “yarnstormers” stepped in to wrap the district’s bollards, bike racks and trees with colorful knitted panels. Yarnstormers are part of a new craft movement that is reclaiming public spaces and brightening up cities with customized wool creations. Like Picasso with the Guernica, or Banksy with his famous graffiti, they are using art as a tool for visual change and disruption.