September 26, 2012

This week, among other things, I am determined to tackle at least part of the stack of half-read books anchoring the corner of my desk,  Amidst the stack is a publication edited by Architecture for Humanity entitled “Design Like You Give a Damn (2); Building Change from the Ground Up” – published earlier this year. It seems appropriate that it is the first I tackle, as I have been watching snippets of the livestream from Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting in New York all day – with its over-arching theme of “design thinking”, so needless to say, I have design on my mind already!

Architecture for Humanity simply stated exists to provide professional design services to communities in need.  This year they will be building in over 25 countries-applying what they’ve learned over the last decade.

Although I was drawn to the book originally as a means to better contribute to the Plan It Hennepin project, as I read the section on “Lessons Learned”, I kept coming back to the idea that most of these lessons have applications for all designers across a wide variety of disciplines.  So with that, I am sharing those lessons:

Lesson 1:  Unless You Build It, It Doesn’t Matter

For the involved “community” design is just a dream.  Communities want results.  The best way to achieve those results is to immerse yourself in the community to understand the need; then work together collaboratively to achieve the results.

Lesson 2:  Innovation is Only Valuable If It Is Shared

In the case of Architecture for Humanity, program management combined with multiple revisioning plans became over-whelming; a problem solved by creating an open-source, collaborative website that would empower building professionals with design solutions to improve life.

I immediately thought of the application possibilities in our own event industry and the 2 – year CRV project, about to be published as a Meeting Design Case Study by MPI Research – as a learning tool for all MPI members.

Then, immediately I jumped to my issue with our ISES chapter Star Awards Program.  Since its inception, its purpose of recognizing and honoring the work done in the chapter wrestles with the fun and glam of just throwing ourselves a big theme party, complete with over-the-top décor, costumes for those who like that sort of thing, lots of flowing alcohol, and sometimes good food….creating an ever escalating spiral and expense that is not sustainable….with very little else.

I am not a fan of the second option as it diverts the attention from a great opportunity to share the innovation that led to the winners’ success…and more importantly for all to learn what works in our market and why; to use the selected events as the focus; to engage with tdesigner and producer and learn more about our industry and how we can better serve our own clients.

Lesson 3:  Be The Last Responders

Although this is probably most applicable in disaster relief, I did find some commonalities in my world.

Just as Architecture for Humanity think of themselves as temporary operating theatres where professionals with a wide range of skills are supporting the local industry to repair, and rebuild the urban community, are we not also a short-term influx of event professionals hired to support the internal planners, client staff and executives to create, repair,  or rebuild a corporate community?

Lesson 4:  It Is More Fun To Partner

The lesson itself pertains to an opportunity to partner with Nike and streetfootballworld, which enabled them to broaden the mission to involvement in a “sports for social change” movement.  Adding partners created new issues in communications – ultimately solved by sharing space and rethinking a better approach to work together collaboratively. 

While partner led to all sorts of benefits for the organization, an applicable part of the lesson may be that while creativity can lead to a single good idea, innovation – which is adaptable and constantly learned- happened as part of the collaborative partnership.

That is a lesson our team has learned through our CRV collaboration as well.

Lesson 5:  Design is an Economic Tool

Too often, non-governmental organizations fail to engage and support the local business sector.  To rebuild holistically, it is imperative to have strong economic anchors in the community.  Project success occurs when one includes gathering spaces and commercial activity.  

Again, with CRV, we used the coffee shop concept as our design anchor to improve community; in Plan It Hennepin, each team in one way or another naturally migrated towards including gathering spaces- almost as if we each searched to find a way to bring back the town square lost in Americas urban landscapes today.

Additional lessons outlined incuded:  Unleash the Local Talent; Let Scale Happen; There is No Such Thing as Typical; Have a Sense of Honor; and finally, Design Yourself Out of A Job.  Can you think of ways those lessons are applicable in our world?

I think this gives you the idea; my point is simply that Design in any application is not merely pretty or breath-taking; it needs to stimulate and accomplish a desired outcome.  It’s sometimes hard to remember that in our event world, when at least in the short term, we can still get away with a WOW pretty-party; but as we move forward and grow as an industry, more is being and will be required of us.              

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