Design professor Caroline Hummels: ‘Creativity is a fundamental mechanism’

“We live in an enormously complex world. Which is fascinating! You have to think creatively to address all of the social challenges. As a matter of fact, what we do is intertwined with wanting to put everything up for discussion and then getting to work on it. That requires creativity, or you will never find alternative solutions.”

It is clear that Professor Caroline Hummels of the Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) is in her element at the Creativity World Forum 2019. She is looking forward to meeting people and the potential new collaborations this may produce.

‘I am using design and technology to transform society’

People and values

As well as contacts from her European network, Hummels has also invited new partners to her workshop, Transposing Transformations, on the Wednesday morning of CWF2019. She is organising this workshop together with RISE – the research institutes of Sweden – and the Province of North Brabant. Hummel’s official title is Professor of Design and Theory for Transformative Qualities, at the faculty of Industrial Design. “I am using design and technology to transform society,” she clarifies. “I am mainly interested in people and values.”

This is reflected in her workshop. “We will be looking at two cases related to Transformative Practices, the new design method we have developed. The first is a new bus stop in Sweden designed by RISE. The second is a case related to the Brabant Outcomes Fund, which enhances social innovation. These are both new ways of using creativity to address social issues.”

Resistance to design

Take the design of the bus stop, for example. This did not initially look at costs and functionalities, as would normally be the case, but rather at the underlying values: time to be (to relax, to live in the moment and not having to escape digitally) and sustainability (environment, economic and social). This involves the use of new technologies and methods. Hummels: “During the workshop, we will be working the other way round by developing a bus stop for Brabant and a Swedish Outcomes Fund. We can then see what problems you can encounter when you design in a completely different, transformative way. Because it also causes resistance in people who don’t like the idea, perhaps because it is not consistent with policy. And that is exactly what we are interested in: how can you get such innovations up and running in government circles?”

‘We want to explore major social issues and challenges using new technology’

Systemic changes

Design is the common thread in Hummels’ life. Her career path took her to TU/e thirteen years ago, via the art academy and Delft University of Technology. She believes that Industrial Design, as the faculty is named, is no longer the industrial design we know from the industrial revolution. The discipline is divided into all forms of design. “We are working on systemic change, which is also what we have called the group in which I currently work. I’m not saying that we’re going to solve major social issues and challenges with new technology, but we do want to explore its use. To experiment with it,” she says, as in the joint project with Philips Design and the Máxima Medical Centre. Among other things, this project is looking into reducing the higher percentage of stillbirths in women from non-Western countries, compared to native Dutch women. “An extremely complex problem. The Netherlands scores very poorly on this in Europe anyway. You cannot solve that with a single design; you need to look at the health system as a whole. You need to give both the group of vulnerable women and obstetricians different tools with which to work.” Improved technology can also support communication between obstetric practices and hospitals.

Tremendous creativity

Creativity helps her with this. Hummels calls it a fundamental mechanism. “You are constantly playing with the possibilities it offers for creating a more beautiful and sustainable world. A recent newspaper article discussed what the Netherlands will look like in 100 years’ time if the water level continues to rise. This is a problem that requires tremendous creativity if we want to find effective solutions together.”

‘To achieve SDGs, you need people’

This brings the conversation to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the central theme of CWF2019. No single goal stands out for Hummels, she considers them all equally important. “I am working on a number of SDGs, purely because they lend themselves to being developed in this region. If it concerns health and well-being, for example: healthcare is Philips’ core business. That makes it your main focus when you work with them.” But to achieve SDGs, you need – and here we come back to her pet subject – people.

Learning from each other

The professor is therefore pleased that CWF2019 offers the opportunity to meet people. “It’s nice to be able to show others what we are working on and, if they are interested, ask them to join us. This may even produce new, interesting relationships. Being inspired, sharing knowledge and learning from each other. But we want to do more than simply inspire! We want to actually achieve something on that Wednesday morning; concrete actions on which we can build.”

Meet Caroline Hummels at day 3 in Eindhoven >

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