Steven Johnson, Considered Creative

Steven Johnson of Considered Creative did a talk last night in partnership with the V&A, the University of Brighton and Policy Connect called ‘Social Design for the Other 90%’ at Central Saint Martins. I did not feel that the other 90% were addressed until after his talk. Johnson talked about engaging big businesses in social design, rather than having separate design agencies. There was some jargon in his talk – it was really aimed at business people rather than people like me.


These are the driving forces behind social change agenda according to Johnson. We are afraid that the problems we have are our fault, so we feel driven to repair.


Don’t you love my dodgy camera? If power leads to responsibility, he argues, then big business should take the responsibility.


He argues that big business will gain more consumers from having a social agenda. He mentioned Marks and Spencer ascribing to this but didn’t explain how they did it.

I do like this slide, despite not being massively keen on the rest of the talk. This slide does describe lots of my values: understand and empower people and collaborate, understand the real problem (rather than ‘create a good problem’), transcend disciplines (be discipline neutral), don’t produce too much physical stuff because it’s environmentally harmful, and look at the long-term view of society: how can it be improved?

I share these values mostly but I don’t know what I can do about engaging big business in social change. I’m barely in business myself. I’m more interested in the how of social change rather than the who.

Charles Leadbeater who wrote We-Think responded to Johnson’s talk. Unlike Johnson, he gave specific examples to explain his points. He said that in Pakistan they have plenty of broadband but no access to water and electricity. Someone designed a brick machine that Pakistanis could use, where a small amount of concrete was mixed with soil and then formed into shape like a coffee machine. They can make a few at a time and then store the bricks so that eventually they will have made enough to make a house. The innovation was understanding the social problem and the system behind making a home. I would have liked to hear more stories like this – they would inspire me to come up with new ideas or new ways of tackling a problem.

There was a good joke in Johnson’s talk:

One planet says to another:
I don’t feel very well.
I’ve got Homo Sapiens.

The other replies:
Oh I’ve had that.
It doesn’t last very long.

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