Share with us which companies design practices inspire you?

Design practices are always in a state of flux, currently there is not enough known about how design practices change and where they are moving to next.

In a book called “Design Transitions” Joyce Yee (@jsheau) and myself seek to capture and share inspirational stories of how design companies practices are evolving.

So we are now on the hunt to capture new and untold stories from across the globe. We are looking for practices who are challenging the traditional notions of designing and are operating in new design spaces.  It may results in new responsibilities and outputs as professional boundaries expand into management, strategy and policy areas. Examples may include designers working as innovation, service or user experience consultants.

If you know of design companies with inspirational practices and their stories not been told yet we would love to hear about them – all you need to do is comment below.

As comments are posted I will visually map the design companies people are inspired by and why. Follow the development of the book on Twitter: @DesTransitions.

26 comments

  1. Here’s just a few but I could probably think of more! I am inspired by small-scale, interdisciplinary practices which contribute to positive change.

    http://www.weareasilia.com/ – Asilia inspire me because they work cross-culturally and promote Africa, and bring the colour and inspiration of Africa into my world. Also check out Lulu’s blog on http://www.afri-love.com/.

    Studio TILT: http://www.studiotilt.com/ creating the sustainable, interdisciplinary, feel-good spaces of the future.

    Loop PH: http://loop.ph. Loop merge art, design, food and sustainability beautifully.

  2. inspirational design studios
    http://www.gold.ac.uk/interaction/ Goldsmiths Interaction Research Studio, Berg London http://berglondon.com/, http://web.mit.edu/MIT mainly parts of their digital manufacture. to name just a few, there are so many more.

  3. Emma, thanks for the question.
    In short my top 3, and why :

    1. TED.com for the way the have set up a eco-system of conferences that inspire a lot of people and keeps being (re)activated by i.e. the TEDx conferences

    2. Apple for REshaping our life in many more way’s than we think (see Google translation of my Ducth blog http://tinyurl.com/7s24yly)

    3. KLM (Royal Dutch Airlines) who managed to stay in business from 1919 on by constantly seeking for optimum in consumer engagement. Their latest might be the way they use Webcare to engage with and provide service for travelers.

    Despite all that we are constantly seeking ourselves for new ways to use service design in healthcare in our Radboud REshape & Innovation Centre ;-)

    Lucien

  4. http://humansindesign.com/post/5769165980/humans-in-the-design-of-nursing-bags

    My inspirational story comes from the design of a new nursing bag which is a collaboration between an art college, a human factors centre and the nurses themselves.

  5. Ponoko: http://www.ponoko.com/ – a company that started in here in Wellington, New Zealand and is now expanding into North America and Europe.

    Ponoko is an online marketplace where designers/creators/artists, digital fabricators, materials suppliers and buyers meet to make (almost) anything.

    The core of their vision is the trade in product designs – kinda like the trade in music (iTunes), photos (Flickr), movies (YouTube) and software apps (iPhone).

    I think this is a company a bit ahead of it’s time, or perhaps very timely! Designers can be anywhere on the planet but fabrication of their design can be localised or near/at the source of the target market. More sustainable, more immediate, and more personal.

  6. Formway is another Wellington company who merge industrial and ergonomic design with user-centred ethos. They design office furniture with a focus on the workplace and how people interact.

    http://be.formway.com/#id=/Design-Story/The-Design-Process/

    http://www.formway.com/Case_studies.html

  7. am inspired by our own work! we are currently creating a database driven dynamic brand identity for a large media company. on top of that we use fMRI brainscanning to understand the emotive appeal of various visual&verbal stimuli… interested to learn more? contact me!

  8. http://www.ideafarms.com, a company I co-founded, based in New Delhi, India. I’ll let the website do the talking – interdisciplinary for obvious reasons – Ideafarms brings Industrial Design approaches to ICT.

    Ideas are seeds, organic not abstract. Farm them.

  9. PDD: http://www.pdd.co.uk

    I love the way they have integrated ethnographic research into their process, especially notable as they do a lot of work in what might be called the more industrial end of design, the end where the idea of users is all too often forgotten. They were the first UK design firm I found that had ethos on staff, back in the 90s, and inspired my then nascent interest in the field.

    Not a firm, but if one thing influenced my take on design more than anything else it was Ivan Illich’s book Tools for Conviviality. A lot of power packed into a very small book…

  10. Here’s my top three, and they all follow from the assumption that the key priority for design at the current moment to be engaged socially, and to help engineer transitions towards more inclusive, accountable and sustainable economic models.

    Snook, based in Glasgow, have made remarkable progress over a very short time in developing a viable and growing business based on some very novel processes and methods. Operating in the emergent domain of service design, they are pushing the boundaries of this, influencing government, working with communities, and connecting globally. A hugely inspiring team: http://www.wearesnook.com

    Over in New York, Wendy Brawer’s Green Map project was breaking boundaries in globally connected community-based social innovation nearly two decades ago when I first ran into Wendy. Since then the project has gone from strength to strength, and provides a model of how design can promote education, community involvement and the nurturing of alternative forms of economic relationships based on sustainability: http://www.greenmap.org

    The RSA as a ‘think tank’ and enabler has been hugely important in promoting new approaches in design education, setting socially relevant design challenges and providing a forum for new ideas in real ‘design thinking’: http://www.thersa.org/

  11. Hi Emma!
    I don’t know if I can call design practices but there are surely some companies that make a difference through design thinking and in which I look for inspiration.
    Procter & Gamble-a. g. Lafley & Claudia Kothcka did a great work in this company.
    Idea Couture – Idris Mootee a very good approach to business
    Apple – the massification of design work
    Designthinkers.nl – I like the way they see the whole!
    Mayo Clinic – Needs research
    These are some reference points and my two cents
    Jose

  12. Hello Emma,

    Thank you for your tweet. I would like to nominate Rohan Gunatillake because to put it quite simple his work inspires me.

    Have a look and you’ll see what I mean. He has taught me what it really means to ‘ship’ ideas.

    http://rohangunatillake.com/

    P.S massive thank you to the brilliant Mike Press for sharing Snook the way he did above. He was the first person to ever open my eyes to the idea that design could do good and he will inspire me forever.

  13. 37 Signals – http://37signals.com/

    Because they were my route into starting to understand Agile Design & Development (imo design & development go hand in hand).

    Clearleft – http://clearleft.com/
    Because they put the focus on User Experience first. Clearfleft were probably responsible for me taking UX seriously.

    Mac Rabbit – http://macrabbit.com/
    Because:

    * Their software is a joy to use
    * Their software tends to take age old problems, but find genuinely innovative solutions
    * Their software is beutifull visually.

    I’ll comment again if I can think of anymore

    Thats all I can think of for now

  14. Emma,

    An excellent idea to collect ideas in the emerging field. For me it is an exciting idea to realize the extent to which design practices have become a major management concept on a global scale.

    Not being the first to comment, is not an easy one. I also would have included 37 Signals, designthinkers.nl, TED, RSA and Procter&Gamble.

    Being Dutch i would also recommend 31 Volts (http://www.31v.nl/); Zilver Brand Innovation (http://www.zilverinnovation.com) and a Dutch company like Philips.

    On an European scale there are many exciting players, but mentioning them would not be fair to all these exciting initiaves that i am not yet aware off.

  15. Hey Emma,

    Here are some examples of companies who’s design practices have inspired me lately:

    Live/Work – http://www.livework.co.uk
    Because they take seem to be able to take a true multidisciplinary team and focus all the energy and different skills on one common goal.

    The Young Foundation – http://www.youngfoundation.org
    As they put it: They bring together insights, innovation and entrepreneurship to meet social needs.

    Think Public – http://thinkpublic.com
    Their aims are: to design creative solutions to social issues that deliver value and impact, to radically re-design public services and how they are delivered and to activate people to realize their potential in society

    Design Thinkers – http://www.designthinkers.nl
    So important but often underestimated in companies is the idea of trust, ambition and a certain level of personal responsibility. In my eyes, their real advantage is their approach to responsibility and entrepreneurship within their team.

    Of course there are many others, but these are the ones I have been watching. I hope this helps. Good luck and am looking forward to seeing your visualization!

    Lena

  16. Not sure how this relates and is by no means is a new discovery as his story has definitely been told. But I was lucky enough to watch Stephan Sagmeister speak during the summer and was a much much updated version of his famous TED talk…

    http://www.ted.com/talks/stefan_sagmeister_the_power_of_time_off.html

    He references a few people whos work are rather interesting so worth maybe checking those out more so than the talk itself.

    I’ve found trying to be happy has been much more important to me than feeling really secure financially by working flat out. My biggest battle is keeping my soul in my work so taking time off to rediscover, learn and just take life in helps make my every day work feel less like a job and more of a calling again – trying to create the excitement of discovery and freedom I had at University now that the dreaded “C” word has entered my life. Clients.

    Although not the best option financially… it makes me a better designer. I mean thats the whole point right? To do work you love too not just what the client wants. So starting at the core before even thinking about design and taking the time out to do work that makes me happy makes my work better and arms me with fresh and new ideas of doing things to bring to the table with clients and keep more of my soul in the work.

    Other people who spring to mind would be 37 Signals.. http://37signals.com/ and their book ReWork is a great read.

  17. Hi Emma, thanks for the question and for providing a place to discuss shifting design processes.

    Firstly I would say, though I often see other peoples work and think wow, great idea. As a starting point inspiration for a project I try not to use other designers as inspiration, if you look to others you end up with work that looks like others and create a professional culture which is self serving. My best inspiration comes from finding interesting problems, which leads to interesting solutions. Empathic design observations of peoples behavior and understanding advances in scientific knowledge is the best source of research.

    I guess from that view these people inspire me:
    Elinor Ostrom
    http://www.exploration-architecture.com/
    http://www.waywardplants.org/
    http://www.dunneandraby.co.uk/content/projects
    http://www.thomasmatthews.com/
    http://www.curroclaret.com/
    http://thinkpublic.com/news/
    http://wearesnook.com/snook/

    But my long standing frustration is that as having been previously labelled as a product designer, graphic designer and packaging designer. All of these ‘disciplines’ are defined by the output not the input of interesting relevant problems. It means clients pre-determine the outcome before they even speak to a designer, which is bad for the environment and solving problems in an elegant efficient manner. How we / I solve this problem is something that drives the way I want to develop me design work, its supposedly one of the questions that kick started service design, but I am also considering focusing on a particular issue, i.e. food. I could speak for hours on the subject of developing food design issues as a ‘discipline’ inspired by everyone from Heston Blumenthal and Joseph and Joseph, to vertical farming.

    All the best
    Rob

  18. Thanks for the question Emma,
    To be truthful I’m not that interested in the design work of companies who main remit is accumulation. I am inspired by individuals and groups who use design in order to create or facilitate social capital, be that within established organisations, or as new endeavours. Some examples of the latter that spring to mind are:

    http://www.tacticaltech.org/
    http://www.projecthdesign.org/

    Goedendag,

    Cay

  19. I am afraid I have to say that insitum.com (where I work) have some interesting research/design methods and solutions, but sadly we a little bit “hide” because all our projects are too confidential.

    To number few things we do very well – Very horizontal and quick hierarchy, focused on teaching and pushing employees in a way we can learn fast and even make some mistakes in the way (a very important part of the learning process) but always with someone around to clarify doubts and help you out.

    For me these characteristic creates a good and fruitful place for Y-Gen innovative people and the results we are gathering show the same thing.

    :)

  20. Comments from Patti Hunt, a services designer from http://huddledesign.com/:

    The best design practices are not so much about “what”, as they are about “how”.

    1. Accessible Wisdom
    I greatly admire individuals, companies and communities who put thought and effort into making their wisdom accessible to others. Companies like WorkPlayExperience, Doberman and Huddle embody this practice and I greatly admire them for it. The co-founders of WorkPlayExperience (Markus and Adam), director of Doberman (Lisa) and director of Huddle (Mel) are all highly intelligent, talented and wise people… but importantly, they are also humble. The strength of their humility enables others to engage with, connect to and access their own value.

    2. Safe Spaces
    Another reason I enjoy working at Huddle and admire WorkPlayExperience is because they are interested in creating safe paces for people to creatively explore new ways of thinking and doing. The creation of safe places extends well beyond the physical surroundings into emotional and intellectual security as well. People who feel safe are generally braver, more open and respectful of ideas raised by others. Safe spaces are very interesting because they aren’t always comfortable or good for everyone – companies like Doberman and Huddle who are on this journey, know how it can have surprising results.

    3. Play
    Companies such as WorkPlayExperience, DesignThinkers, Snook, Huddle and Doberman all embrace the notion of play, as a design practice and way of thinking, doing and being. Employees in Huddle are rewarded for the “bringing the fun” to projects and for creating an environment where colleagues and customers don’t feel like they are working at all. A common sentiment expressed by participants at the Global Service Jams is: “Why can’t work always be this way?” Companies like those mentioned think it can.

  21. These won’t be earth shatteringly new, but from a public sector design perspective (my field of interest) there are three agencies I regularly think WWTP/P/FGD:

    ThinkPublic (http://thinkpublic.com/) is focused on tackling societal challenges. They work with public sector agencies, third-party providers (social agencies, ‘not-for-profit’ or third-sector groups), and they just have a beautiful and accessible presence – in their work, in how they do work, in how they show what they do, and in how they champion outcomes. Helping getting people’s voices, citizens voices, is no mean feat, and using service design processes in such an engaging way is inspirational.

    Pixar’s (http://www.pixar.com/index.html) story is not so untold I suppose, but these guys and the way people work with people is inspiring. I think great collaboration is at the heart of great design – not just collaboration with users, but collaboration with designers/peers. Empowering the designers (there does still need to be a ‘Director’), engendering a peer culture, a safe place to tell the truth; it’s a focus on the outcomes that means no one person can achieve complex change alone.
    I regularly read How Pixar Fosters Collective Creativity (HBR) when hierarchy gets me down.

    FutureGov (http://wearefuturegov.com/) is a ‘change consultancy for government and social innovation’ – Amen, because as designers we are change agents. In fact, they specifically focus at the local government level because that is where real change can and does occur. They create the means (through design activity, through leveraging web technology e.g. cofluence) to engage people and facilitate change – which means they sometimes build the tools and the means (e.g. Patchwork, Casserole) for communities to own, engage, make, re-make and self-regulate the change. And they just do it; idea, invite, innovate, iterate, implement. How wonderful to describe a project as ‘imagination capturing’!

    These three all have a humble (in the ‘kind’ and ‘usually beautiful’ sense) collaborative style, a very definitive and direct outcome and a sense of humour. They all aim to transform lives in a practical way. And it doesn’t hurt that they all seem to be in love with their jobs and what they can achieve.

  22. As many of the companies I look to for inspiration are already up here I’ll stick with just the one!

    http://wearewhatwedo.org/

    A cheerful company that focuses on changing everyone’s behaviors rather than assuming changing systems and structures that only touch a few of society will to make a difference, a truly grassroots view of changing the world.

    A bonus too that their tweets always make my day a jollier place.

  23. Other than the company I currently work at I would have to say the work of Chris Lefteri http://www.chrislefteri.com/ @chrislefteri
    and Ingredients http://www.moreingredients.com/ his annual publication on materials are truly inspirational.

  24. The one that immediately springs to mind, perhaps predictably, is Berg. They consistently develop really innovative and thoughtful pieces that fuse technology and human behaviour in delightful ways. Their blog describes their experimental approach and their projects, like all good companies, stem from their employees being passionate about asking ‘what if’. Check out the Kindle experiment as an example. Little printer is also very cool. I also like the design team behind Ikea and Grenson (brogues) who are passionate about their category and continually build stuff that really resonates (from a design aesthetic and need point of view) seems to stem from their deep provenance within the category. So nothing really feels generic despite them selling huge quantities of items.

  25. Hi Emma,

    I very much like this topic. Thanks for the invite. For me, companies that can successfully craft strategies that truly fuse customer and business needs & goals to deliver meaningful results in an aesthetic end product are near and dear to me.

    I’d also add that agencies that are rigorous (yet flexible) in method, collaborative in nature, humble, transparent, educational and enjoyable to work with cannot be undersold.

    That said, some folks whose disciplines, methodologies and outcomes I think are admirable include:

    Zurb (http://www.zurb.com)
    - An Interaction Design & Strategy Consultancy in California

    Adaptive Path (http://www.http://adaptivepath.com)
    - User Experience & Strategy (Also in California)

    Ziba (http://www.ziba.com)

    Method: http://method.com

    and of course, I have to name the company I work at – Mad*Pow (http://www.madpow.com) – to the mix as I genuinely believe we not only deliver on the points above but continue to grow, improve and innovate year after year.