Design on the edges

Written by Julian Sykes

I was on my way to work today. We go past a number of schools on the way, and as we were running late, the pupils were all streaming through the gates. It struck me just how similar they all looked. Obviously the uniforms, but also the extra things like bags and jackets. The same brands same colour (generally black). Same shoes. I remember back to my time in school and can recollect the idea of keeping your head down and trying to fit in. This seems to then continue within the structure of the education system. The idea of testing and being fitted into a silo which can then allow you a chance of getting a certain grade. The pass and fail nature all then seem to bring a 'fitting in' feel to how we see success.

Their is a logical, methodical approach to the process that then allows people to be placed on a matrix to understand how clever, or suitable they might be for jobs or further education. The thing about it, is I am not really sure it works. I think things have changed and the idea of progress is exactly that. Our lives progress, they dont go back and fore, they are a continuos timeline. Of course we get up's and down's but these experiences allow us to learn and to develop.

Over the last year I have been to a number of talks and events that have highlighted that we are scared of delivering work that has a possibility to be rejected. This idea of failure has been popping up all over the place. I wonder were this comes into our thinking does the way the education system works at the moment hinder an approach that allows innovation? or at least different thinking? I wonder also is the idea of failure and in a sense hardship also been driven out of what we produce. Within a lot of the conversations I have had there is a sense that the edges are where ideas come from. What I mean by this is. There is a desire to react to focus groups and people's opinions when it comes to an idea or a product or a venture. So much so that people have incredible power to stop things from being produced.

In a recent talk there was an example of a video game that was being tested. One individual tester (for over 30 minutes) kept on getting lost in a maze. Over and over again he came to the same place and turned right. He was one tester in a large group, yet the case was made for the maze to be simplified. The question for me is, are these experience's becoming sanitised and 'safe'? it feels like we do not want to create anything that could possibly create a negative emotion or bring frustration. The problem seems that this approach is stopping emotion all together. You only have to look at the games charts to see the same genre over and over again. Yes these are popular but they also show something else. They show a commercial and conceptual wariness of creating new and different. Something that sits alongside this type of thinking is the idea of how we work. Going back to the education system I can count on one hand how many times I was involved in a group project. Yet generally what type of work do people do in work? well for me it's group work. We co-create and develop new concepts. This all brings me to the idea of how are we to innovative rather than incremental advancements, how can we jump ahead? how can we encourage this kind of thinking. realising that some of these ideas might not work?