Rowan Lamont On Design Strategy For Social Impact

Rowan Lamont has been referred to as a "design thinker who is good with a spanner." 

Design Strategist at Designworks, Rowan leads clients through user centred discovery to identify and implement meaningful business opportunities. He works in technology, medical, and IoT product development for many Australian and International clients, and doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty in the process. 

Rowan was part of the Designworks team which recently designed the Queen's Baton for the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games - a product which has been designed to create positive social impact.

 

Rowan talks about the value of design thinking in creating positive impact and how Designworks recently applied this approach in designing the Queen's Baton for the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.

 

HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE INTERVIEW (for full details, listen to the podcast)

[Tom Allen} - To kick off Rowan, could you please share a bit about your background in design? [1:52]

[Rowan Lamont] - [Rowan says he's always been naturally curious to find out the whats, hows and whys behind things. This lead him to study and begin work as an industrial designer and as things evolved, Rowan found himself having more conversations around the strategy and implications for business. He's now been working in the area of strategy for 10-15 years.]

For those of us unfamiliar with design thinking, design strategy and design-led innovation could you please explain what this is and how it can be used? [3:32]

Design thinking can be used as a method to positively solve a problem and is a forward looking and optimistic approach. As opposed to a traditional marketing approach it thinks about who the end user is, empathises with them and delivers a user centred solution.  

With being a designer comes huge responsibility.

When you consider that everything we interact with has been designed, all of a sudden you start to go 'oh jeepers' my design decisions have ramifications. By using a design thinking approach you consider the impact your decisions have on the people that it's going to interact with.

In your work as a design strategist and from the projects you’ve worked on, which ones do you believe created positive social or environmental outcomes and what are some of the challenges you typically experience during the research, design and delivery phases of a project? [3:32]

From wheelchairs, to accessibility to medical products with strong, meaningful outcomes. Some previous work with FMCG and packaging has negative connotations to the work, but by taking the responsibility that comes with being a designer and ethics, there are ways that you can influence and guide clients to positive outcomes, designed in an environmentally sustainable way. That's where design has a real opportunity to make an impact. It comes back to people moving away from a traditional approach which can be driven by ego. There are challenges in convincing people to move away from pre-conceived ideas and convincing clients and teams to open up to new opportunities. Design thinking is not just outcome driven. The design thinking process is very inclusive and one of the challenges is bringing the right people into the process. Ultimately design thinking is a process that allows you to manage risk and to deal with uncertainty and put into place ways to strategise around that before it's too late.

The Queen's Baton.

The Queen's Baton.

It’s been a busy year for Designworks having won the bid in late 2015 to design the Queen’s Baton for the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Could you please share how you went about designing the Queen’s Baton, what it is and what were the key outcomes that Designworks wanted to deliver upon? [9:53]

The Queen's Baton is an iconic item which will start its journey at Buckingham Palace (in March 2017) where Her Majesty the Queen will place her message to the Commonwealth into the baton and it will travel through a relay around every Commonwealth nation connecting the diversity of those nations together. It will arrive to the Gold Coast for start of the Commonwealth Games in 2018, where the message will be read for the launch of the games. It is an item which a third of the world will have some sort of interaction with it... more than 2 billion people.

'Ignite, inspire and include' were the core themes of the Baton. There were three key phases to the design process: immersion, ideation and delivery. A strong focus on immersion in the Gold Coast, allowed the team to get strong insights to define a context that formed the very basis which allowed the team to move into the ideation phase. It was about understanding the spirit of the Gold Coast. As a design team.

Kurt Fearnley with the Queen's Baton.

Kurt Fearnley with the Queen's Baton.

With impact sometimes being a difficult thing to measure, are there any particular things Designworks will be doing to measure that impact or know that the relay has been a success? [18:20]

We will measure it from the perspective of "ignite, inspire, include." We're balancing the pleasure of it and the meaning of it. The meaning of it and the messages it sends and the stories it shares and what it represents. The elements of past, present and future. The Baton provides a lens through which important stories can be shared from other people's points of view - and the legacy of that is particularly exciting.

School groups - what are the conversations that school teachers can have with their students after the Baton passes through their towns? How will they respond to issues such as sustainability, pollution in their oceans, environmental issues that are challenging their culture or people and place? So I think the meaning of the Baton and those stories have a much longer and far reaching impact.

How have you seen the design industry transform over the years and where do you see design, social enterprise and social innovation heading into the future? [22:45]

We're seeing a shift away from having a great idea, to launching it to trying to market it to get exposure.  

It's now about understanding the problems and tension points, the bottle necks that people have in their lives and coming up with innovative solutions to those.

Designers have figured out a language to share that with as design thinking and human centred design and express how that has value. Humanising technology - applying it in a way that is meaningful to people. How is technology going to influence and change our interactions with people and interactions together?

Have you come across any inspiring projects or initiatives recently which are creating positive social change? [25:35]

Rowan talks about the Corroboree exhibition and the work of Jordana Blackman, and can see how elements of Jordana's work could be 

Are there any specific local issues or problems that you believe could be improved with the application of design thinking? [27:25]

Rowan talks about three key areas:

  • Arts and Culture
  • The architectural and town planning industry has a huge opportunity to lean towards human centred design.
  • Technology and the technological impact.

To finish off, are there any great design or social impact books or resources that you could recommend to our listeners? [29:06]

[Rowan unpacks a book by Yvon Chouinard that resonates with him a lot called Let My People Go Surfing - with a sustainable and environmental lean towards making decisions that he believes is a nice approach to business and life.]

The 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games Queen's Baton.

The 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games Queen's Baton.

 

INITIATIVES, PEOPLE AND RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THE PODCAST:

 

You can find Rowan on Linkedin or leave a comment below.