Are you interested in your future in design? Come to the World Design Policy Conference

Are you interested in your future in design? Come to the World Design Policy Conference

Design is a complex concept that manifests itself in multiple activities and professions, some of which include the word design in their name, but not all, such as architecture or urban planning. It has been 30 years since Richard Buchanan published his famous article “Wicked Problems in Design Thinking”, in which he proposed considering four major areas of design action:

  1. Symbolic and visual communication
  2. Material objects
  3. Organized activities and services
  4. Complex systems or environments for living, working, playing or learning

Buchanan intended to put on record how design was being used to explore ever wider and more immaterial fields, although already in 1969, Herbert Simon, in his “The Sciences of the Artificial”, had anticipated that “anyone who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones, is designing.” The current popularity of the term “design thinking”, although trivialized and decontextualized, has contributed to the acceptance that design, as an intellectual process, can help us face complicated situations that were not originally the focus of traditional design professions.

When people with professional design experience are included in any team and design processes and methods are employed, the results can overcome seemingly impossible obstacles.

It is important to ask, therefore, if current design schools are preparing their students for such a future challenge. One might even question whether any change is necessary, given that the value of design thinking is precisely the way in which its professionals have been spontaneously tackling any challenge, long before this debate arose, in the most varied fields of action. What has been demonstrated is that when people with professional design experience are included in any team, and design processes and methods are employed, the results allow to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles. This is very useful in the business environment, but it can be decisive when applied to politics and to the great challenges of our society.

Does this mean that design policy is a job opportunity for design courses or a possible evolution in the profile of experienced professionals? My opinion is yes, and very broadly so. On the one hand, those known as policy makers (people who generate policies, i.e., elected officials, civil servants and technical departments) are increasingly relying on design professionals to find solutions, either by seeking consultative advice or by forming part of teams. A close example is the recently created Consell Local del Disseny de la ciutat de València. The term “policy design” has been used since at least the 1980s, although it is not identified with a specific professional profile. In recent years, so-called policy labs, multidisciplinary teams to support decision-makers by providing innovative solutions based on empirical research and using design methods and processes, have begun to proliferate around the world.


On the other hand, various fields of action have emerged from the design profession that have a direct impact on the field of politics. The so-called social design seeks to deal with the development of products, services and methodologies to solve social problems. Futures design is a not yet well defined term that incorporates foresight techniques in order to anticipate future needs. Transitions design is an area of design research, practice, and study conceived by the School of Design of Carnegie Mellon University in 2012, which proposes to use design to address the major changes facing our society. These are just a few examples of the concern that exists in design to actively participate in the development of policies.

The proof of this concern from design education itself can be found in an initiative launched by three students of the Escola Lateral de València, Nacho Pérez Rubio, José Alonso Català and Diego March Ávila, called “A tientas.” It is a critical reflection on current design practice, with a special emphasis on the new fields of action of the discipline: futures, transitions, society, politics. This is a necessary and at the same time unavoidable debate, because the profession is transforming at great speed and the role of designers in the coming changes may be fundamental.


The international Design Policy Conference, to be held on November 3 and 4 at the Valencia Conference Center, is an opportunity to discuss these major issues. One of the panels will be especially dedicated to addressing how design education should be approached for the future, and how design professionals can prepare themselves for the expectations we are generating around the discipline. No one involved in the current or future practice of design can feel excluded from a conversation that will have an indisputable impact on our lives.

– Kike Correcher