Designing responsibly

DDE Zuzanna Nick Bookelaar 01112023 02203

Designing responsibly

Living proof that design talent sticks around in Eindhoven is Zuzanna Skalska, born in Poland and founder of the successful consultancy agency, 360inspiration. In 1992, she came to the city to study at the Academy for Industrial Design (now Design Academy Eindhoven) and never looked back. Zuzanna, assisting major global companies with design management, reveals her insights into the role of designers in our evolving society and how this translates to a city like Eindhoven.

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After your studies, you chose to stay in Eindhoven. What makes this city so interesting for you?

"This is where my worldview took shape. After studying at the Academy for Industrial Design and a two-year continuation at the Academy for Art and Design in Den Bosch, I joined Philips Design. I was hired as a sensorial trend analyst by Peter Nagelkerke. It was visionary at that time—the idea that not only the functionality of the product matters but also how one experiences it, the surrounding experience. Now, more companies have experience designers, but back then, it was unheard of. At Philips Design, I later connected with Ad van Berlo. From him, I learned about the importance of design management and trends. The lessons from Peter and Ad were crucial milestones in my career."

About design management

Design management, also known as managing by design, is a creative approach teaching managers and decision-makers to view their companies through a designer's lens. Instead of reasoning from a product, goal, or outcome, they take a step back. The guiding question is, 'What if?' This question is further explored based on processes and methods from design thinking. Essentially, they follow fixed steps similar to professional designers: inspiration and research, recognizing patterns and developing ideas, and testing prototypes with users. Design thinking involves experimenting and quickly trying things with the target audience. The solution isn’t fixed, and the process can be adjusted midway, leading to constructive, innovative, long-term solutions.

‘‘We must advocate for the future users of our products or services, rather than being at the mercy of industry, business, or the economy.’’

Designing is more than just creating something aesthetically pleasing. According to you, it carries a responsibility. Can you elaborate?

"When I started as a designer, the economy was booming. It was all about production, production, production. One product followed another, and the consumer expected that. A turning point for me was a request from the tobacco industry, related to a precursor of the e-cigarette. At that time, it seemed like a great project from a financial perspective. However, the owner of the design studio turned to us, the design team. Did we want to work for this industry? That's when I realized that a designer indeed has a responsibility. We can either turn a blind eye and watch the world slowly deteriorate or say, no, let's do things differently. The designer's role in society has changed significantly in the past hundred years. First and foremost, we must advocate for the future users of our products or services, rather than being at the mercy of industry, business, or the economy. The designer's task is not just to make things beautiful or attractive but to create things that the user hardly notices because they fulfill their function. Therefore, a designer can have any position in society—be it a doctor, prime minister, mayor, or teacher."

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DDE Zuzanna Nick Bookelaar 01112023 02014

What, in your view, is the designer's role in today's society and the future?

"The designer's work is not a 'you ask, we deliver' scenario. It's about asking the right questions, and thinking about the client's world and the world you want to live in. That's how I approach my clients. For example, if a fork manufacturer approaches me, I can dutifully design forks and present three concepts within a week. Or I can ask: why do you need these new forks? That leads to business discussions. You can speculate about the future and the opportunities that lie ahead with the client. Maybe it's using your machinery to fulfill a different market demand or acquiring another company with complementary expertise. Or producing spoons instead of forks because consumers suddenly prefer soup. It's about flipping the way of thinking and looking beyond your own industry. Design thinking is not just a fancy workshop with post-its, markers, and flip charts; it's about embracing a different way of working and thinking within the organization."

Do you see companies in the current world that understand this well?

"We are moving towards a world where subscriptions, leasing, renting, and borrowing triumph over buying. Where companies offer a service instead of a product. The paradigm of ownership is shifting more and more towards sharing. Major companies like Bosch (Blue Movement), Nespresso, Bold, Hello Fresh, Lynk&co, Volvo, or Volkswagen want this too, but they are still searching for the right path. A brand like Swapfiets has grasped this principle well. Everything they do is geared towards meeting the needs of users. Students don't want to buy a bike because it may break or get stolen. It makes sense to pay a monthly fee for an always-available, good-quality bike that Swapfiets repairs or replaces when needed. They've designed the entire service. Swapfiets has been acquired by Pon, the parent company of brands like Gazelle. The beauty of this acquisition is that Swapfiets has the space to experiment. And that's how it should be. Seeking opportunities means you have to do it: pioneer, fall, and get back up. Sometimes, it doesn't work, and you have to look for a different direction. If you believe in the idea, you have to persist until you find the right path. And not quit after a year."

‘‘Every municipality should have at least one designer in the city council.’’
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What does this mean for a city like Eindhoven?

"Cities face various challenges. We often look to the municipality for solutions. I believe it can be different. Look at how this city originated. Without Philips, Eindhoven wouldn't be what it is today. The company knew that to achieve its goals, it needed people. And to connect people to the company, a good ecosystem had to be ensured—housing, sports, culture, greenery, and more. So, Philips made sure it was there. Nowadays, it's not the same. It's remarkable that the Van Abbemuseum and Muziekgebouw Eindhoven have to repeatedly seek support, while they are such essential values in our city. I think all major companies in our region, like ASML, can take up that mantle. By ensuring our ecosystem remains intact, preferably with the help of the design power present in the city. Designers, especially, are masters at shifting perspectives and discovering opportunities. And this applies to politics as well. Every municipality should have at least one designer in the city council. I envy Helsinki, Edmonton, and Los Angeles with their Chief Design Officers. In that regard, we still have a long way to go in the Netherlands."

What Eindhoven initiative do you find interesting in this regard?

"The Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) has had an open campus for a few years now. That is a fantastic idea. For example, students studying industrial design can take courses in disciplines like biochemistry or architecture. This opens the door to other people with new visions and different ways of thinking. It helps students broaden their perspectives. And precisely then, something new can emerge. This principle works outside education as well. Imagine what can happen if you include a designer in a hospital's surgery team. Suddenly, during an operation, you have a fully customized 3D-printed implant for a complex wrist fracture. I find the collaboration between different disciplines incredibly fascinating. To companies and governments, I would say: if you truly want to work on a good long-term strategy and smart short-term solutions, involving designers is the answer. Design is a toolset and a mentality that gives companies or cities the ability to solve user problems."

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