A focus on ‘meaningful design’

Philip Ely

My research applies design thinking and practice to solving real-life problems in the domains of new technology development, science communication and social design.

In 2017 I co-authored a paper in the International Journal of Human-Computer Studies on Designing Interactive Newsprint, inwhich I designed new forms of interactive newspaper using conductive inktechnology and trialled these on end users in the community of Preston, UK (see figure 1).

Figure 1: Designs for the Lancashire Evening Post and Blog Preston

This interest in designing artefacts extends to designing services – applying design methods. I’m currently working with Dr Qassim Saad and Adjunct Associate Professor Dianne Smith on Social Design in Action – a participatory action research (PAR) project working withChallis Community Primary School to design a unified health, community and education service that improves life outcomes for families and children in Armadale.

Figure 2: Social Design in Action participative workshop output

I recently wrote and published the Social StartupToolkit (published by UnLtd – the Foundation for Social Entrepreneurs) which provides tools and learning resources for social entrepreneurs trying to build social ventures. Based on a development programme that I branded, wrote and delivered, the toolkit (designed by Fremantle design company Chil3) builds on three years work supporting social entrepreneurs in the UK.

Figure 3: Social Startup Brand

My research draws upon the practice of visual communication design and an interest in design process models for design-led innovation. On the one hand I can design forms of visual communication to aid our understanding of the world (see figure 4) and on the other I can use design thinking to solve more complex, systematic problems. In this sense, I am inspired by the notion of ‘think like a system, act like an entrepreneur’[1]. Design is a sense-making,meaning-making discipline and designers – as contrarians, challengers,visualisers, and future-makers – have a facilitating and leading role to play in tackling many of the world’s problems. 

Figure 4: Infographic for Teunissen, P (2017) in School of Earth & Planetary Sciences

[1] Conway, R., Masters, J., & Thorold, J (2017) From Design Thinking to Systems Change: How to invest in innovation for social impact, Royal Society of the Arts, London.