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November 16, 2016
Designing in the Uncertainty
By: Francesco Pini

This year, Dublin Design Week is supporting the European Year for Development (#EYD2015) theme: ‘Our World, Our Dignity, Our Future’, which highlights the role that design plays in enabling happy, healthy, dignified lives.

How do I write this post knowing that you will probably stop reading after a couple of lines (because that’s what happens on the web, right?)?

I’m not sure but...that’s ok! Let me explain...

Whilst living in Milan, I recently experienced the wave of migrants seeking safety in Europe.

Thousands of people arrived at Milan Central Station over just two days. From there, they had nowhere to go. The station and city were unrecognizable; I felt like it was somewhere where happy, healthy and dignified lives could simply not exist. It was completely alien to me.

In the chaos and noise, I found myself asking: What did these people have waiting for them? What kind of lives were they expecting? How could they ever feel comfortable and happy, facing such a vague and uncertain future?


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Back at the studio, we had to begin work on a project whilst knowing very, very little about the project itself. We were certain about so little that we didn’t know how to approach the work, what models to follow, or even what skills the team might require.

The uncertainty in this situation was definitely less dramatic compared to that facing the refugees, but the team’s emotions and discomfort was similar.

Let’s think for a minute about how many things we don’t know; in our daily lives, for example, do we really know what will happen today? In a few hours? A few minutes?

Uncertainty makes us uncomfortable, scared, and sometimes unhappy. But we can’t just put our lives on “pause” waiting to have all the information to be able to take action. Sometimes you have to take a leap into the unknown.


Designers embrace uncertainty

Start from the very few things we know for sure, and be aware that they will change. To say it with the words of the wise Socrates, “Know that you know nothing”.

Design can transform our uneasy view of uncertainty into tangible challenges that we can overcome.

Design doesn’t push uncertainty into a dark corner, but instead asks uncertainty to sit at our table, so we can work together.

Here at The Dock, we believe that innovation happens through collision – a collision between people from different backgrounds, from different schools of thought, from different specialties and areas of expertise. People that don’t instinctively understand each other. We literally sit together with uncertainty every day.

Have you ever had a chat with, let’s say, an Artificial Intelligence expert?

As a designer with Fjord and The Dock, I have. Sometimes I just sit there and think “Why am I here? I understand nothing.”

But, as we talk, compromise, understand, grow and build, something special happens: Design becomes the strongest glue between all of us.

Design is capable of crossing the boundaries of our knowledge and understanding. Design culture drives design thinking and design and teams with diverse backgrounds and perspective will make the sparkle of innovation happen. There is nothing more powerful than designing and building something together to connect people. Even if, just a month before, they were completely unknown entities.

Thinking back to the refugees in Milan Central Station, it’s incredible to realize how hard those people are pushing themselves out of their boundaries, literally. They have to design their futures, adapt to change, solve problems at every step and sit uncertainty down at the table and stare it in the face.

Can we as designers, or dreamers, or facilitators, or constructors be inspired by confronting uncertainty, and work together to solve problems and design our future?

It looks like I was wrong at the beginning - you read it all.

But, you know...I just wasn’t sure.

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