Christian Bason, CEO of the Danish Design Center, believes that design can play an important role in addressing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). But the Creativity World Forum (CWF2019) must not take place in a bubble, he cautions. “It’s going to take more than a few pointed speeches and flashy workshops.”
Design has strong social and political aspects, says Christian Bason. “Designers no longer apply their skills to business challenges alone, but also to social and global issues. This is an extension of our work. We can be the catalyst and facilitator for devising solutions. My message to CWF2019 is that designers’ professional and systematic approach to creativity offers enormous opportunities, which we can and should exploit even better.”
‘We can be the catalyst and facilitator for devising solutions’
How can design help to find solutions to the major issues of our time?
“SDG 17 is about using partnerships as a means to achieve goals. Its message is that we will never achieve our goals if we do not involve people and organisations from all sectors of society. We need to bridge the gap between start-ups and large companies, between public and private. Design and design tools can play an important role in this. Design is about a visual language, about creation, about trying things out and about people and users. Over the course of many years, design has developed tools that enable collaboration and co-creation between sectors.”
Which design tool can be useful, for example?
“I wrote an article about this a couple of years ago: if designers work with decision-makers, what is it that leads to change? The most important tool is empathy. Empathy is the most important driver of change. If you really do your best to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and understand the characteristics of a problem from their point of view, problems that seem complicated, unsolvable or insane take on a human dimension. So, find out how people experience the problem. The key to the solution is also the human perspective: if we want to improve a situation, what does that mean for people’s lives?”
‘Empathy is the most important driver of change’
Do you have an example of empathy as a design tool?
“An interesting example can be found in the Red Cross Museum here in Copenhagen. They have set up an experience which simulates what it is like to actually be in a place where an emergency aid organisation is providing assistance. You see and hear all kinds of stories and films that present you with the dilemmas with which the Red Cross is confronted when it has to make decisions. In this way, you become immersed in those situations.
Another example can be found in my own Danish Design Center. First, we had all kinds of decision-makers in politics, education and health care tell us what it will be like to have a psychiatric illness in 2050 or how it will feel to experience a traffic accident at that time. Based on that, we have developed spaces where you can experience such situations using all of your senses: you feel them with your hands, smell them and hear the sounds of the situation.”
How does such an approach help to achieve the SDGs?
“The Red Cross example shows how you could deal with crisis, immigration and refugees. The Danish Design Center example clarifies how you can reflect and work on solutions for the health care of the future. In both cases, it is about adding empathy. These are examples in which design tools can help organisations to seek each other out and form new coalitions.”
To what extent has this approach already been adopted by the United Nations?
“The UN realises that it needs to work not only with governments but also with start-up companies, creative sectors, activists, NGOs and others. That’s why ‘platforms for change’ are being built. You can’t impose these from above, you have to design them. And to support this, we have developed a tool: ‘platform way of working’. The idea is to create an ecosystem of organisations and people whose impact is greater than the sum of its parts. We have also recently designed a tool kit that we will demonstrate during CWF2019. It’s a collection of graphic templates, posters and canvases that you can use in workshops with partners to explore how you can help each other tackle global issues.”
‘I see a gulf between the rhetoric about partnerships being needed and the hard work that it actually takes’
Which SDG concerns you the most?
“That’s also SDG 17 on partnerships. Many organisations and people in Eindhoven are working on global challenges but, at the same time, many organisations do not know how to go about entering into partnerships. It’s going to take more than a few pointed speeches and flashy workshops. What does it mean to really innovate through partnerships? What does it mean to run a new generation of organisations – public and private – and a new generation of governments? What does it mean to build the next generation of business models, which are both profitable and have a social impact? I see a gulf between the rhetoric about partnerships being needed and the practical, arduous work required to form those partnerships.”
What do you think of an initiative such as the CWF?
“Such gatherings are important. There is always a need to bring together creative forces from all parts of the international community and allow them to work together. We must always bring people together, in different ways, on different scales, in different formats.”
‘It is precisely those who deal with laws, regulations and finances who are crying out for inspiration’
What is the greatest challenge?
“Creating momentum. The question is always how productive participants are and how useful the result they produce is. People feel good about themselves when they’ve been talking to like-minded people. And now those like-minded people also agree that creativity and design are important. So, there is a risk that such an event could take place in a bubble. Normally you wouldn’t see any financial executives, bankers or managers from the public sector. Nevertheless, I hope that there will also be some of those types in attendance, who need creativity but may not even realise it. After all, it is precisely those who deal with laws, regulations and finances who are crying out for the creative skills, energy and inspiration that we can offer. So, I’m hoping for great diversity, for unexpected participants. And I’m hoping for future-oriented, concrete actions and outcomes on which we can work in the coming years.”