Design has the power to drive meaningful change within organizations, communities and the world around us. And design leaders, such as those of us at wonnd, have what it takes to create value and translate ideas into impact. We share the key takeaways from the Service Design Days Leadership Summit 2023 in Barcelona.

On September 15th and 16th I had the privilege of being part of the Service Design Days Leadership Summit 2023 at BAU, Centre Universitari d’Arts i Disseny in Barcelona, organized by Inge Keizer, Maytee Rodríguez and a great team.

This “unconference” for creative thinkers from the entire range of design disciplines was a great opportunity to be inspired by and learn from peer-to-peer interactions. We had the opportunity to share insights, experiences and best practices that could enable design thinkers to make significant strides as the leaders of positive change.

In a world where everything is interconnected, if we want to envision desirable futures we must first analyze and understand all the cultural and systemic factors that underlie the problem we want to solve, as a means to focusing creativity and thinking differently. It’s essential that we move away from the standard and create our own vision for change-making. The standard sources are not valid anymore. We need a holistic vision built from diverse perspectives, with new tools powered by collective work and learning. And we need it fast.

Design-driven thinking has huge potential for building and changing the status quo towards these desired futures. Design leaders have the capabilities to lead projects, processes and teams with a different mindset, which is key for creatively integrating complex systems analysis with an alternative approach to drive new solutions for the future.

Do you want to know how to bring this approach to your challenges and promote change? Contact us and let’s have a conversation. As we always say at wonnd, it’s clear that not everything is done.

In the meantime, here are my notes from two incredible days of inspiration, learning and insights offered by great professionals from many top companies and diverse industries. Thanks to all the speakers for their generosity, and to the amazing group of participants for enlightening us with their thinking during each conversation and discussion. Great final conclusions were provided by Luis Villa, Adjunct Professor and former Strategy Director at Fjord, and my appreciation goes to Sandra Bosch for the enriching debrief after each session.

The program addressed the challenges faced by design leaders in four tracks and through the lens of creative leadership, with an immersive and interactive set-up. Some of my key takeaways from each of them are below.

Track 1: Organizing for change: resilient leaderships and navigating transformation

Led by: Mariana Amatullo, Professor of Strategic Design and Management at Parsons; Natsuko Hara, Director of Change Management at Adidas, formerly at PwC; and Moira Buzzolani, Transformation Leader and former Director at Adidas.

Leaders need to have the skills and resources to take action and implement the necessary changes in a shifting environment. How can we make real progress toward purposeful transformation?

Design leaders have differentiated skills when leading transformation processes. They manage as they design, they approach the problem-solving as designers, with a design attitude as their mindset. This allows design leaders to combine the 5 Design Attitude Dimensions (Creativity, Empathy, Connecting Multiple Perspectives, Tolerance to Ambiguity and Engagement with Esthetics from a multisensory perspective) that are key to making a difference in turbulent times. And this is when leading both teams and projects.

Change leadership also needs to lead, inspire, stimulate people through changes in a positive way. In this change-making road map there are 3 key aspects: training and learning to have the right skills and tools, clear communication, and a strong community.

Track 2: Designing for what’s next: finding patterns and envisioning impact

Led by: Phil Balagtas, Futurist, Professor and former Design Director at GE; Tino Klaehne, Director of Strategic Innovation and Intelligence at Lufthansa; and Søren Lethin, Concept Director and Innovation Catalyst at LEGO Group.

How can we think in the long term and have a perspective that looks beyond the immediate future? Categories are blurring. The world doesn’t stand still. We need to look beyond our own industry to detect the signals of what will be next.

To envision impact and work towards a meaningful future we need to make sense of the effect of our actions, evaluate their results and reactions, and find new activities and actions that can drive change.

Working on different speculative future scenarios scopes has led change-makers to a wide range of analysis: Transformation scenario, Collapse scenario and Business-as-usual scenario approaches allow us to think about possible futures and their impact on business in light of these different visions about the future. Consumers, Business and Culture are key observation areas when envisioning new perspectives for the future of business.

Track 3: Leading in complexity: co-creating value for designing impactful solutions and reframing innovation.

Led by: Kristel Van Ael, Associate Professor and Creative Director at Namah; Shauna Carey, Chief Executive Officer (CEO),; and Peter Jones, Professor of Systemic Design at OCAD University.

How can we anticipate and respond to complex challenges in a way that is both innovative and strategic? Being a leader in complexity requires a deep understanding of systems and networks, and involves a diverse range of stakeholders. We need to design journeys through complex systems. And design leaders are “bridge builders” with the capability of involving different people in inclusive processes.

Navigating complicated and uncertain situations, and developing innovative solutions in changing circumstances, is complex. System design combines design thinking and system thinking at multiple levels: people, society and planet. Permanently zooming in and out is key to understanding the complex relations between interconnected systems and approaching the solution of future problems. It’s necessary to identify the underlying causes of problems, identify the potential risks and unintended consequences of our interventions, and identify leverage points for change.

And don’t forget that small changes can have a positive influence in the long term, generating a big impact. Generate awareness, build capacity, make strategies and build alliances.

Track 4: Introspecting leadership: becoming a better leader and unleashing leadership strengths

Led by: Nina Warburton, Head of Design at Philips; and Annahita Varahrami, Design Director at Procore and former Design Manager at IBM.

To make a change in organizations and people, design leaders must be personable and proactive, motivate and strive to empower their teams, be accessible and open to dialogue, and generate safe and inclusive spaces for innovation and creativity.

Some great takeaways for design leaders: provide a steady guiding light; you don’t know what the solution to problems is; feel the fear and rise to the challenge; protect the team: give them weapons but you’re not a shield; work on yourself but be yourself; listen hard but decide harder; trust your gut but check the facts; what you do is not as important as how you do it: how you behave, interact, communicate and build relations; and always embrace failure.

  • By Luciana Leveratto
  • September 18, 2023

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