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Space4Good is a social enterprise that leverages Geospatial Technology towards achieving the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. We brought together our expertise because they wanted to explore the value of human-centred design thinking to their business and whether it could help them clarify their technologically-complex service to clients and stakeholders.

The problem the team faced was in order to deliver their service, the company relied on complex interactions and data flows (from data sourcing, visualisation to storing and reporting) and had difficulty in synthesising these into a clean and user-friendly User Interface. …


A busy traffic intersection from bird’s eye view, surrounded by trees
A busy traffic intersection from bird’s eye view, surrounded by trees
Photo by Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash.

Humans design products and services, which in turn influence future designers. Design is not a linear, one-way process but a continuous correspondence of creation and iteration. A new product or service creates new entanglements of relationships that influence and therefore create new designs, and so forth.

Most design research methods quickly reach limitations. Products and services are likely used by groups of people who have different lived experiences and interact with them for different reasons and face a diversity of problems. For instance, the measurement of user satisfaction reveals little about actual user attitudes. …


Marina Bay Park in Singapore, a green and futuristic environment.
Marina Bay Park in Singapore, a green and futuristic environment.
Photo by Victor Garcia on Unsplash.

We’re in trouble. This may not be the first time you’re hearing this, but our global system is unsustainable. Over the last few years, this has led to radical environmental and social events — making us question whether we can sustain our current way of life into the future.

Organisations increasingly acknowledge the importance of sustainability, but there is still a systemic disconnect between the production and discarding of products and materials.

As an anthropologist, I consider the challenge of designing a sustainable future a social issue. It is no longer only economic, political, or environmental. Viewed through the lens of the Anthropocene, climate change is a social problem because it is caused and perpetuated by existing socio-political systems. Transforming these systems is, in turn, at the core of addressing climate change and sustainability. Changing social values, conceptions, and actions will lead to new relationships with environment, which can have a regenerative or non-destructive impact on our land, water, ecology and atmosphere. …


A tree log in a deforested area.
A tree log in a deforested area.
Photo by roya ann miller on Unsplash

Transformation is a continuous process. 2020 has brought rapid acceleration of social transformation in a shift towards working from home, working remotely and living in the new normal of a global pandemic. Design thinking has also been going through a conceptual transformation in order to adapt to the new needs of organisations, product developers, researchers and consumers. But is human-centred design still equipped to identify and address the increasingly complex and new challenges we face in the new normal? And how can we design for positive impact beyond humans?

Human-centred design has dominated the product and service design industry, but as designers seek to scale up in social complexity and also consider the ecological and environmental challenges faced by all humans, such as climate change and plastic pollution, there is a need to rethink our methodologies. …


An irrigated field with a single tree contrasted to a dry barren field
An irrigated field with a single tree contrasted to a dry barren field
Photo by Ivan Bandura on Unsplash

Wildfires, coral bleaching, plastic pollution and other events are happening at large scales and rates that are increasingly harmful to humans, animals and ecosystems. We live in an era of unprecedented human impact on our surroundings. This is described as the Anthropocene, which is “a new planetary era in which humans have become the dominant force shaping Earth’s bio-geophysical composition and processes.”

Whether it is groundwater depletion, deforestation, carbon emissions, plastic pollutions or nuclear waste, humans have created social systems and structures that have led to unsustainable use of resources and treatment of ecosystems. …


Three people working together to construct the word ‘insights’ written in large letters
Three people working together to construct the word ‘insights’ written in large letters
Working together to create insights. Illustration by Stephen Kung.

Interdisciplinary research brings together different ways of knowing and different ways of articulating that knowledge. By highlighting the entanglement of different actions and disciplinary approaches to research, I want to explore one key question in this article: Is there a better way to bring together and present the knowledge from interdisciplinary research to inform design processes?

Research is increasingly interdisciplinary in design research, where qualitative and quantitative researchers from the social, behavioural science, data science and beyond bring together different methods, concepts and modes of thinking. …


An illustration of a man walking in giant shoes at home, a metaphor for walking in somebody else’s shoes.
An illustration of a man walking in giant shoes at home, a metaphor for walking in somebody else’s shoes.
Walking in somebody else’s shoes. Illustration by Stephen Kung.

The term empathy is overused and under criticised — it is often intended to mean to understand and/or advocate for customers but holds little conceptual ground if critiqued in the context of thorough social science research. Empathy is less a concept that helps researchers contextualise data — it is more a method of advocacy, than for reflexivity and critical thinking — , and runs the risk of only holding partial truths about interlocutors.

Empathy is considered one step in the design process that may be described as an approach aimed at understanding ‘the user’ and then advocating for their needs by creating emphatic thinking towards them by stakeholders. With the insights gained during the empathy phase, through existing data or some design research methods such as surveys and interviews, design teams may create things like user personas and move on to synthesise these findings and ideate solutions through product, service or program design. …


A simple illustration of a woman with a notebook on a white board, a man walking with a laptop and a woman on a computer.
A simple illustration of a woman with a notebook on a white board, a man walking with a laptop and a woman on a computer.
Illustration by Stephen Kung.

Understanding customers of services and users of products is part of the central narrative of design processes. Too often, infographics tell us that designers ‘advocate for the user’ or that ‘empathy’ is part of the discovery phase of a design process.

But there is very little emphasis on reflexivity as way of thinking to stop and question, even to challenge our own actions as designers and researchers and the impacts they have on the people we design for. …


An ethnographic insight into the social and environmental consequences of land conversion and groundwater extraction for tourism.

A close up of a stone water spout covered in moss, adorned with incense and offerings.
A close up of a stone water spout covered in moss, adorned with incense and offerings.
A water spout in a temple in Bali, Indonesia. Image: author

Gede lives in Canggu, Bali, Indonesia. He participates in traditional activities such as community events, ceremonies and administrative duties and also hosts visitors in his guesthouse which he runs with his wife and two sons. The guesthouse is the primary source of income for the family and business has only increased over the years. The property is adorned with frangipani trees that carry beautiful flowers. …


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Four of Indonesia’s rivers rank among the 20 most polluted in the world in terms of mismanaged plastic waste measured in metric tons.

This makes Indonesia the second-largest contributor to marine plastic pollution after China. A recent research article, published in the journal Nature Communications, estimates that between 1.15 million and 2.41 million tonnes of plastic enters the oceans every year from rivers. Of this, Indonesia is estimated to emit around 200,000 tonnes of plastic from rivers and streams, mainly from Java and Sumatra.

Plastic debris can kill marine animals that get entangled and drown or starve after they ingest particles they cannot digest. Toxins leach from plastic as it breaks down, posing health risks for animals, while also entering the food chain and eventually ending up on our plates. …

About

Thomas Wright

Anthropologist and designer interested in design research, environmental sustainability and social inclusivity. Founder gincostudio.com

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