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Designers must help stop public being left behind by technological advances
Designers need to bridge the gap between the general public and digital economy to help them understand the increasingly complex world.
That is the conclusion of a report by a University of Brighton professor who highlights the city’s digital-tech cluster as model for collaborative success.
Designing the Digital Economy was co-authored by Gillian Youngs, a professor of digital economy, for the Design Commission.
It praises Brighton’s digital-tech cluster for successfully fusing arts and design with digital innovation to boost growth in the digital economy.
Designers were described as "critical agents able to mediate between people, places and technology".
They have the ability to ask bigger questions that put people at the centre of the digital economy - not the technology itself.
But designers need to wrestle back the innovation agenda and work with technologists to create new forms of social and economic value in the evergrowing Digital Economy, Prof Youngs argues.
She said clear designs were crucial to enabling public understanding and urged the government to take action.
Prof Youngs said: “The digital economy is tied strongly to physical location.
“We strongly recommend that any future government digital strategy should include current research in this area to help drive the digital design clusters and unleash growth throughout the UK, and not just in London.
“Brighton is showing the way in the next stage of the digital economy where design and creative processes will be vital to putting people at the heart of new business models as well as social and political developments.”
The report was commissioned by the Design Commission, the research arm of the All-Party Parliamentary Design and Innovation Group, an industry-led body conducting research aimed at driving thinking around design policy in the UK.
The recommendations of Designing the Digital Economy
*Appointing a Head of Design for digital platforms in each government department.
*Government should find ways to embed designers in testbed big data projects.
*Large infrastructure projects such as HS2 should appoint a Chief User Officer to ensure the effective, relevant and transparent use of big data.
*The design sector should be encouraged to partner technologists and regional development mechanisms to develop Digital Design Clusters which work together to develop networks of design-led digital activities.
*Children, further education students and undergraduates should be taught using up-to-date design software or open source platforms.
*Whilst the UK will be the first country in the world to teach children how to code as part of the curriculum (from 2015), there are still measures that can be taken to close the skills gap now.
*Expand and develop the Research Councils UK funding work on linking design to the digital economy.
Prof Youngs added: “Intelligent environments, where data can flow to and from users via the ‘Internet of Things’ will, if designed properly, create user experiences of day-to-day life that are more efficient, sustainable and enjoyable.
“Government should seek to use design to explore and demonstrate the potential applications of open data, in order to educate the public in how such information could be used.
“The digital economy is tied strongly to physical location.
“We strongly recommend that any future Government digital strategies should include current research in this area to help drive the digital design clusters and unleash growth throughout the UK, and not just in London.
“In addition, more detailed work is needed to explore how current education and research funding mechanisms might encompass ‘digital by default’ and correspondingly focus on user-centred design.
“The Brighton Fuse research and development project which analyses Brighton’s successful creative, digital and information technology (CDIT) cluster and runs pilot work to develop innovators is one of the key case studies we used.
“Brighton as a distinctive CDIT model is showing the way in the next stage of the digital economy where design and creative processes will be vital to putting people at the heart of new business models as well as social and political developments.
“The era of Big Data and the Internet of Everything (IoE) is upon us.
“Much data is about people and can be used by them in different ways and the connected world of the IoE is about intelligent environments which will feed and collect information to make our navigation of them easier and more efficient and enjoyable.
“People are central here and important as active participants. We need to move away from the passive idea of people as ‘users’.
“That belongs to early ideas of the digital economy and not the new ones now being born.
“Design can be used in multiple ways to maintain a people-centred approach in digital innovation.”
Some of the city's top digital exectives backed the findings.
Jenni Lloyd, strategy director and partner at NixonMcInnes, said: “The digital world doesn’t exist in isolation – it’s interwoven into the fabric of our everyday experiences, so digital design shouldn’t exist in isolation, but teams need to include a blend of skills and work together to understand users’ needs and develop joined-up solutions.
“Children need to be developing research, thinking, collaboration and design skills before they learn software packages.
“People don’t need to be told about the promise of a digital world – they need to experience it in their everyday life.
“We need to be rethinking the products, services and environments that we interact it with and using digital technology to make them, easier, cheaper, faster, more convenient, more innovative.
“And we need to be doing this for all, not just the privileged few.”
She added: “Brighton’s tech cluster can definitely play a key role in this – there are so many talented designers, technologists and artists drawn to the city that we have a unique opportunity to join talented people together with knotty problems and create a better environment for us all – a happy, digitallyenabled city by the sea.”
Mike Hollingbery, chief executive of creative digital agency Bozboz: “The public are becoming part of an ever more connected world and great design helps keep interactions with new technology intuitive.
“When technological innovation works best it is because it is easy to use.
“Great digital designers create a window into another world, they make complex ideas simple – hiding the technology so it doesn’t get in the way or leave people behind.
“The art for us is in keeping the message simple and using the technology as a tool to reach and connect with the right people.
“We work hard to understand our customers’ needs and help them work out how to achieve them, we simplify complex ideas, the technology helps with that.
“Brighton is almost unique and among only a few places in the world where there is a huge overlap of creative and technological people, who can mix together to come up with innovative new ideas and products.
“It is nice that the wider world is starting to realise that something special is happening in Brighton, amidst the tourists and nightclubs a whole digital world is bubbling away, and growing fast.
“The challenge for the digital cluster is to find meaningful ways to sift and present the vast amount of data now available, and to turn this into meaningful and useful services and products.
“Brighton has a very collaborative culture, sharing information and ideas quickly this has helped us as a digital community greatly to grow quickly.”
Jason Woodford, chief executive of SiteVisibility: “I couldn’t agree more, designers working with technologists can create huge future value.
“The recommendations all sound wholesome and comprehensive and address mostly the supply side.
“It would be great to get more explicit engagement with the commercial risk takers and entrepreneurial stakeholders who can convert ideas into business opportunities.
“So much good work never gets publicised, my personal feeling is that more value needs to be attached to sharing of information among businesses, entrepreneurs etc.
“More alignment with existing taxation incentives like the very popular R&D tax credit and Knowledge Transfer Partnerships.”
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