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The ReReThinking Series

Occupy Reimagining Design Interview with GK VanPatter of Humantific By Wycliffe Raduma Aalto University Design Factory Helsinki, Finland www.aaltodesignfactory.fi

DESIGN

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Organizational Transformation Design

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Q1 Wycliffe Raduma: In the first CEB [Future of Innovation] conference in Helsinki, in September 2009, you challenged Aalto University’s designers to reach into the realm of organizational innovation by designing strategies and systems rather than products and services. Two years have passed since the conference and you have visited Aalto University a few times during this period. Do you perceive that Aalto University has risen up to the challenge? Has there been a noticeable shift towards the desired organizational changes? Garry K. VanPatter: Hello Wycliffe: Happy to do this with you. Sure, ask me a really easy question to get us started. Yes, I do well remember speaking at that 2009 Future of Innovation Conference in Helsinki. I met many terrific people there doing interesting work including some Aalto leadership folks who were working on the university combine initiative at that time. It seemed then like an ambitious undertaking. I do recall that several Aalto leaders were interested in the NextDesign Geographies Framework of Design 1,2,3,4 in addition to what Humantific does. As you know, NextD Geographies is a framework that makes a distinction of scale. For those who might not know: it acknowledges for example, that what goes on in Design 1 in terms of methods and skills is very different from what goes on in Design 3 or 4.

Many still see Design 2 as a nice tidy, manageable, in-the-box future for design.

At that Helsinki conference I did talk about the fact that around the world many graduate design schools have imported the American orientation that the furthest reach of design thinking is product and service creation, what we call Design 2. It was in 2003 when we started pointing out that leading practices had already moved beyond that picture. I repeated that message at the 2009 Helsinki conference. Not everyone welcomes this perspective as many remain involved in the Design 2 business. Many still see Design 2 as a nice tidy, manageable in-the-box future for design. This view was popular in the new business press for a considerable time and was subscribed to willingly by numerous high profile design school leaders in the US. We have never agreed to surrender to such a limited perspective of possibilities for design.

We have never agreed to surrender to such a limited perspective of possibilities for design.

At the Helsinki conference that day I talked about the fact that the strategic opportunity and challenge today for graduate design education is to reimagine design beyond that stay in-the-box picture, and create a school or program focused on skilling beyond product and service creation. www.humantific.com 2 © 2011−2012 Humantific & Aalto Unversity. All Rights Reserved.


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I asked the Helsinki conference audience to do a quick “Reality Check” exercise. I suggested that they look out into their own communities and ask themselves; How many of the challenges that they see in Finland can be solved by creating more products, or more services? It is an exercise that I have asked audiences in India, Denmark, Switzerland, Canada, United States and many other places to do and it is one that typically serves to break the Design 2 fascination trance as it seems obvious to most that other kinds of skills beyond product and service creation are already needed.

I asked the Helsinki conference audience how many of the challenges that they see in Finland can be solved by creating more products, or more services?

It is a relatively simple step to then ask: if that is the case, why then do so many product and service creation oriented schools continue to be created? These are difficult questions that very few others seem to be asking design education leaders. What we are really doing and have been doing for nine-ten years via NextDesign Leadership Institute and Humantific is advocating and modeling a much broader interpretation of what is possible for design. Since 2003 we have been out in the global community talking about the need to reimagine design beyond the present paradigms, certainly beyond Design 2. Whether we knew it at the time or not, early on we became design reimagination advocates. Not everybody gets that. Not everyone is happy to see strong advocacy in that direction. What we found over the course of 9-10 years is that not everyone is up for that journey. So be it. We had no expectations around Aalto and were not asked by any Aalto faculty members to do any follow up work. We were delighted to be invited by the students to come back to Alto Design Factory to speak. What we saw in the implementation of Aalto and the Design Factory in particular is that for whatever reason, the leaders decided to focus on a different challenge than the one touched on at the Future of Innovation Conference that day. In reference to the Design Factory evidently that challenge was: How might we create (another) high profile graduate product and service creation program in Finland? That seems to be the challenge that the leaders of the Design Factory chose to work on, and what they built seems to have met that challenge. So be it. All very interesting, constructive developments but none of that really has anything to do with the “Reimagining Design

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CoCreation is Rising DESIGN

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PHYSICAL VIRTUAL

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The difficult truth is, gearing up to educate a new generation for the Design 2 practice space is simply not enough to catch up to where the already reimagined leading practices were in 2003, let alone lead the practice community today.

www.nextd.org Copyright © 2005−2011 NextDesign Leadership Institute. All Rights Reserved.

Source: GK VanPatter & E Pastor: NextDesign Geographies, 2003-2011.

Beyond Design 2” challenge posed at the future conference in 2009. What I heard that day was “Thanks for pointing out the geographies of Design 3 and 4. Lets go create a Design 3 and 4 school.” That’s evidently not what happened, or has not yet happened. The difficult truth is, gearing up to educate a new generation for the Design 2 practice space is simply not enough to catch up to where the already reimagined leading practices were in 2003, let alone lead the practice community today. Q2 Wycliffe Raduma: Aalto University programs are indeed educating product and service designers, engineers who design, develop and operate infrastructural systems, and economists and business (wo)men who find market opportunities and generate value and employment opportunities. However, programs and activities within Aalto are beginning to incorporate more and more society driven projects and initiatives such as: the establishment of the Aalto Tongji Design Factory (ATDF) for cultural, educational and economic collaboration in 2010, the Good Mill project and the Aalto Hub project in 2010-2011, and the recently launched Unicef Impact projects*.

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Do you believe that Design 1 and 2 still need to be taught in order for the current society and infrastructure to function? Garry K. VanPatter: You make a good spokesperson for Aalto University and the Design Factory Wycliffe. I have no doubt you could make a case for all the good initiatives underway there at Aalto, and I am sure there are many. Regarding your question; It is really none of our business, but certainly I would be delighted to see Aalto move beyond American-centric Design 2 skill-building. Initially Aalto seems to have missed that mark. Are you building a consumer society there? Is that an underlying goal? Perhaps the good news is that with so much going on at Aalto and new initiatives in no short supply, much seems to be still possible beyond what appears to be a Rev 1. The delicate truth is that design schools tend to build programs around what faculty members know how to do and are comfortable doing, so no big surprise there. As I stated earlier, a lot of energy today gets directed towards recreating alternate versions of graduate design programs that already exist elsewhere. Historically, these recreations have often been based on programs that exist in the United States, whether this importation suits local conditions or not. As in the business community, it’s easier to create “same as” or “similar to” programs rather than something that is grounded in real community needs, truly different and, or future forward. You can fly to many parts of the world today and find rewrapped America-centric product creation graduate training programs, in India, China, etc. No big news there. This importing worked well when everyone was building consumer societies. (Some still are, but many have moved on.) That importation works considerably less well today. Even in India where they are still building the consumer part of their society, questions are beginning to be raised by astute members of the local design community in reference to such importation. There is an awakening underway!

The delicate truth is that design schools tend to build programs around what faculty members know how to do and are comfortable doing.

It’s easier to create “same as” or “similar to” programs rather than something that is grounded in real community needs, truly different and future-forward.

I am guessing that your question regarding current society functions is about supporting current societal needs. If what you mean by supporting “current infrastructure function” is training young people to work at Nokia as product creators then I would simply suggest reflecting on the original, very broadly stated intentions of Aalto leaders. That’s really what it all comes down to. To a large degree, www.humantific.com 5 © 2011−2012 Humantific & Aalto Unversity. All Rights Reserved.


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this is a question for leaders: Is there a good fit between the stated objective, the investment made, as well as the outcome? As I recall, that original Aalto rhetoric sounded a lot like the outcome of combining 3 universities was a giant leap that was destined to change the world. If, after all of that expenditure of energy and capital Aalto and the Design Factory ends up being a high profile trade school for Nokia product creators this would surely represent a significant anticlimax to the cross university combine initiative. Sure it might be useful to create such capability in Finland but is this really a cause for Aalto to be undertaking with all of its resources, energy, investment, media coverage, etc.? Is this a solution sized to the initiative that was undertaken? What happens when or if Nokia changes course? What does such an outcome have to do with the present and future of design? What does it have to do with reimagining design?

I am not the officially designated creator of difficult questions for Aalto leadership.

Obviously these are questions for Aalto leadership that I am assuming someone somewhere is asking or has already asked. I am not the officially designated creator of difficult questions for Aalto leadership. I’m sure leaders in the local community there are quite capable of doing so. No doubt for some, creating an American-centric product & service design trade school might be a great outcome, and for others not so. Of course supporting current society infrastructure function might also be about supporting community needs in Finland, or Europe…getting out into the community to help with real challenges. As stated above, that kind of supporting requires a quite different toolbox than product and service creation with its preassumed solution paths. Without some kind of sensemaking distinction framework for the geographies of design, this need might not be crystal clear.

In many ways, it comes back to the degree to which we are prepared to reimagine design.

In many ways, it comes back to the degree to which we are prepared to reimagine design. Around the globe one can see there are a lot of half-baked, foreshortened, stay-in-the-box reimagining efforts. Many are focused on Design 2. The situation reminds me of a picture seen on Facebook. In reference to the reimagining of design (we have added the speech bubble) I will share it here.

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We often take issue with those who seek to keep design in a nice, tidy, limited scope, and that includes unenlightened folks inside the design community as well as competitive folks operating outside.

Source: Unknown image from Facebook altered with speech bubble by NextD.

In terms of understanding this picture I can also share a related short story with you and your readers: Several years ago a professor in a graduate design school in Australia wrote to us at NextD to thank us for presenting alternate possibilities for design. What he told me in his email stayed with me for a long time and still does today. He told me that he was recently scolded by the Chairperson in his design department not to be “encouraging young design students beyond their place in the world”. That astonishing statement captures a lot of what exists under the surface in reference to the reimagining of design and the often present deficit in that regard. NextD is about exploring and embracing broader possibilities for design. It is true that knowing and not accepting your preassigned place in the world can generate some heat. You can see that heat around much of what we do with NextD. We often take issue with those who seek to keep design in a nice, tidy, limited scope and that includes unenlightened folks inside the design community as well as competitive folks operating outside. What we are doing and why is not always understood. In a world in motion, staying inside any box preassigned by others is a formula for extinction.

In a world in motion, staying inside any box preassigned by others is a formula for extinction.

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Q3 Wycliffe Raduma: You have pointed out the necessity of Design 3 and 4. Do initiatives such as Good Mill, ATDF, Aalto Hub and the Unicef Impact fulfill the criteria of Design 3 or 4? Garry K. VanPatter: Not sure what you mean by “fulfill the criteria” but lets try this: What I saw when I was at Aalto several times, meeting with Design Factory graduate students and talking with someone who is an advisor to the Aalto presidents is that the students are quite capable of seeing needs and creating initiatives. Not surprisingly, what they need help with is what we call skill-to-scale. Right now most graduate design schools remain in what we call the cross-over mode, which means many young people are being skilled to create products and services, but tasked with enormous organizational and or social change projects.

Many young people are being skilled to create products and services, but tasked with enormous organizational and social change projects.

Whether through project assignments or their own initiative many students are crossing over into Design 3 & 4 with Design 1 & 2 skills. If you are operating with no distinction framework you might not be conscious of this, but many students soon discover cross-over disconnect. By that I mean they discover that they have a toolbox, a skill-set for a different context that is now no longer the one in which they desire or are expected to work in. We advocate more transparency of such issues up front, more skill-to-scale up front. In our travels, in our meetings at various graduate schools we look for keys to Design 3 and 4. On my last visit to Aalto Design Factory I met with several graduate students who wanted to show me their projects. In those discussions I asked them a fundamental Design 3, and 4 question: How did they frame the challenges that they were working on? Did they know what open challenge framing was? None of them did. Upstream from product and service, how do challenges get framed? I introduced the very basic ideas to them. The general reaction was OMG (Oh My “Gosh”).

Open framing is a central aspect of Design 3 and 4 because you are working upstream from product and service brief assumptions.

Open framing is a central aspect of Design 3 and 4 because you are working upstream from product and service brief assumptions. Unlike in Design 2, no predetermined outcome streams are present. There are no assumptions made that new products or services are going to be required outcomes. So from our perspective “fulfilling the criteria” is less about handing out an assignment headlined “Social Innovation” and more about skilling to the scale and type of challenges. Open Challenge Framing is but one of several key aspects of Design 3 & Design 4. www.humantific.com 8 © 2011−2012 Humantific & Aalto Unversity. All Rights Reserved.


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SenseMaking is Rising DESIGN

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At the scale of Design 3 and 4, there is typically much more sensemaking and co-creation, and thus much more skill in this direction required.

LARGE SENSEMAKING

www.nextd.org Copyright © 2005−2011 NextDesign Leadership Institute. All Rights Reserved.

Source: GK VanPatter & E Pastor: NextDesign Geographies, 2003-2011.

Two other key dimensions that we look for are awareness of sensemaking and co-creation. At the scale of Design 3 and 4 there is typically much more sensemaking and co-creation, and thus much more skill in this direction required. The shift in emphasis shown in this one diagram above from NextDesign Geographies has tremendous implications for design education. Few Design 2 oriented schools reflect this shift. What we advocate is: instead of asking students to work in cross-over mode adapting their Design 1 or Design 2 toolbox to Design 3 and 4, lets ask the faculty to adapt and start teaching skill-to-scale. Right now very few graduate/post graduate design schools are doing that. Asking the students to do the adapting during and after they leave the program has unfortunately become somewhat of a design education standard. This occurs in large part because the world is in motion at a change rate that has outpaced graduate design education. With the students in mind, we advocate changing where the responsibility for adaptation resides and this change of responsibility occurs in the direction of the program leaders.

With the students in mind, we advocate changing where the responsibility for adaptation resides, and this change of responsibility occurs in the direction of the program leaders.

www.humantific.com 9 © 2011−2012 Humantific & Aalto Unversity. All Rights Reserved.


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Q4 Wycliffe Radum: What is a good balance 1 and 2 vs. 3 and 4 in modern society? Garry K. VanPatter: Many leading design oriented practices have ongoing projects across each realm as a deliberate operational strategy. For many, the challenge is proportion modulation, not exactly balance. Design 1, 2, 3, 4 are operational realms that exist simultaneously in any modern society. One does not replace the other, although as professional practice activity spaces, some are shrinking and some are growing. Of course it is no secret that design practice leaders in many countries have for several years, been working hard to get into the Design 3 and 4 business and for good reason. That reason is called globalization.

Design practice leaders in many countries have been working hard to get into the Design 3 and 4 business, and for good reason. That reason is called globalization.

For graduate students it is important to understand what’s happening to each activity space in their societies, by that I mean having a sense if it is expanding, contracting and why. Are fees growing or shrinking. What are the impacts of globalization? The NextD Geographies Framework can be helpful in such discussions. In North America, a lot of what Design 1 focused companies used to be paid a lot of money to do is simply gone. By gone I mean either offshore or taken over by software. Globalization, along with the ever present “Everyone is Everything” movement, has flooded the shrinking Design 1 activity space. Eager folks in China and India will do your web site for $150. You might not hear this news at your design school, but if you are training for a life in Design 1, get ready for a bumpy ride. As a feebased professional activity, that space is shrinking in most societies, not expanding. These are not abstractions. This is real life. This tends to be a conversation that is missing in most graduate design schools. Some mistake the notion of Design 3 and 4 as a cool concept, as an abstraction that may or may not occur. It is no such thing. That migration upstream is a real financial, not conceptual necessity already well underway. All the major design consultancies in the US have been engaged in this upstream direction for years. Globalization is a force that is very difficult to argue with.

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Some mistake the notion of Design 3 and 4 as a cool concept, as an abstraction that may or may not occur. It is no such thing.

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Globalization is one of several very real practical forces underpinning the reimagining of design. Don’t miss that train. Don’t get run over by it. Q5 Wycliffe Radum: Thank you Garry. Two last questions: some initiative has been taken in establishing collaboration between Aalto, Pace, and Parsons. What do you believe Aalto can gain from establishing a presence in New York? Garry K. VanPatter: The short answer is that New York remains an amazing city of great complexity in a society of even greater complexities. Manhattan is always a work in progress, a giant experiment. With the population of the city being greater than that of most Nordic countries, including Finland, you are going to find a lot of differences. The scale of challenges encountered here is rather different and the US certainly has its fair share at the moment. Our culture is extremely diverse and with that diversity comes the magic along with the stresses and strains of this place.

New York remains an amazing city of great complexity in a society of even greater complexities.

Much can be gained by any school or organization by simply having a presence here where so much is going on, however imperfect all of that might be. There are always tremendous incoming and outgoing energies. You become part of that stream, adding to it, taking something away. New York also remains a media capital so it can help with exposure and attention, which seems to be important to your program leaders. Keep in mind that graduate design schools here are not free. They tend to be rather expensive, so the cost of attending is another dynamic present here that is not in the mix in most Nordic countries. Apart from that I cannot comment on specific local schools. In general what we see with New York City based graduate design schools is considerably less inspiring than the city itself. Over the course of the last 10 years as well as today, what we have seen and still see, is slow adaptation to change already underway in leading practices. In part this can be explained by the not often talked about Catch-22 student avalanche phenomenon. Mainstream graduate design schools here benefit from having a never-ending avalanche of young applicants who want to come to the city to study. From a change making perspective it’s not difficult to see that such an avalanche translates into important drivers of change being absent

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In general, what we see with New York City based graduate design schools is considerably less inspiring than the city itself.

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for many of the design schools here in New York. Why change? Why adapt when the students keep signing up regardless? What we find in the US is that more timely change, more reimagination, can be found in the outsider graduate design programs such as Herron which is located far from New York City. One might say that this is the age of the outsider design program with the mainstream schools playing catch up to a large degree although they often have louder voices and get more attention in the design media. Ho Hum. Recently one of the high profile graduate design schools in Manhattan launched with great fanfare, a service design program. Evidently this represented leading progress for themselves and their students. Its leaders creatively attempted to position that realm as the foremost extension of design today. All great progress but of course those assertions regarding the edges of design are utter nonsense. Service design has been operationally superseded for at least ten years. It’s a downstream toolset but this is more or less where the four or five NYC graduate design schools tend to be.

Service design has been operationally superseded for at least ten years.

There are a few stirrings here and there this year but for the most part graduate design education here in NYC remains in reimagine deficitland. Whether everyone wants to admit it or not, most graduate design schools in NYC remain far behind the reimagining design curve. It might surprise you, but at the moment, Humantific does not hire graduates from NYC graduate design schools, or should I say to date we have not, simply because they tend to be equipped in other directions, primarily towards Design 1 & 2. Other firms probably do hire them. Of course our role here is not to rain on anyone’s design education parade. Obviously we see the parades and once in a while someone will ask us what we think about them, but for the most part we stay out of it. In conversations like this one, we do feel some responsibility to point out, from the perspective of practice, that other possibilities for designers being in society, helping out beyond product and service creation, not only are possible, but already exist. Why would design education leaders not want to hear that story, not want to embrace such possibilities?

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We do feel some responsibility to point out that other possibilities for designers in society, helping out beyond product and service creation, not only are possible, but already exist.

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I am sure your readers can appreciate that design consultancy leaders are certainly not waiting around for the graduate design schools to reimagine design. In practice that work has been underway for many years. Sharing some visibility into that reimagined state, from a Humantific perspective, was more or less what I was doing at the 2009 conference. It was a bit of a reimagining design rewind for us. Since that moment the reimagining has continued and we are always happy to exchange perspectives on this challenging subject. At Humantific we are getting ready to publish a white paper on this subject so feel free to stay tuned. Design Practice ReReimagined: Why MetaDesign is Not Product, Service or Experience Design. Those readers of yours who would like to know when it is published can subscribe to the Humantific Quarterly newsletter on the front page of the Humantific web site: http://humantific.com

I am sure your readers can appreciate that design consultancy leaders are certainly not waiting around for the graduate design schools to reimagine design.

Q6 Wycliffe Raduma: To close off, what would be your call-to-action for the education programs within Aalto? Garry K. VanPatter: As I indicated at the beginning of this interview when you asked me about the impact of the future conference, calls to action from the outside tend to generate little action. It’s a human condition thing. Some might say an ego thing. The good news is that right now calls for change action, reimagining action in graduate design education are often coming from the students attending inside the programs. This is occurring particularly in countries where students have to pay dearly to attend. They want tangible outcomes, tangible, skills for this era and the next one rather than the previous one. That is understandable since it is their future livelihoods that are at stake. Regardless of where they happen to be studying we always suggest to graduate students and post graduate students that they become directly involved in advocating for meaningful skills at the scale that they are being asked to engage.

The good news is that right now, calls for change action, reimagining action in graduate design education are often coming from the students attending inside the programs.

This not an unreasonable request but don’t expect change to occur if you don’t speak up. If students find themselves in a program where the “Teach Yourself Co-Creation” model persists its not too late to speak up. http://issuu.com/nextd/docs/_nextd_teachingcocreationnow

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Lets think about this in mid-air for a moment. Yes, I know what might be useful! The Reimagining Design movement that NextD has been a part of for so long could use a little “occupy” action! Yes it might be a good moment to give Reimagining Design along with its partner Reskilling Design a boost of energy and certainly we would welcome others to the Reimagining Design Party! Getting the design education community to get moving beyond the teaching of product and service creation is going to take a superhuman effort from inside along with some “encouragement,” explaining and modeling from outside. It remains a complex subject and change is difficult for any community. Certainly graduate and post graduate students inside can contribute to that much needed combined reimagining design effort. We are always happy to help others in their reimagining. Regardless of all the hurdles, creating such a school, such a program remains a huge opportunity space.

The Reimagining Design movement that NextD has been a part of for so long could use a little “occupy” action!

Apart from the heavy lifting, lets also not forget to have a little fun along the way! The design communities are like intertwined dysfunctional families. They always have been and probably always will be. Don’t expect perfection. It’s not going to happen, certainly in my lifetime. Once we acknowledge that and are at peace with it fun seems more possible. Good luck to you and yours Wycliffe. Lets keep the lines open between us. Come visit again anytime. GK VanPatter Co-founder, Humantific

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Further Reading NextDesign Leadership Network (Open Group) http://tinyurl.com/3pp3ffn Next Design Geographies: Understanding Design Thinking 1,2,3,4 http://issuu.com/nextd/docs/nextdfutures2011_v02 Understanding Design 1,2,3,4: The Rise of Visual SenseMaking http://issuu.com/nextd/docs/understandingdesign1_2_3_4 ReReThinking Design Thinking http://issuu.com/nextd/docs/2_rerethinking.design NextD Reality Check http://issuu.com/nextd/docs/realitycheck2011 Teaching CoCreation Now http://issuu.com/nextd/docs/_nextd_teachingcocreationnow CoCreation Is Rising http://issuu.com/nextd/docs/cocreation_is_rising SenseMaking is Rising http://issuu.com/nextd/docs/sensemaking_is_rising

Questions? Please direct all questions to programs@humantific.com

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© 2011−2012 Humantific & Aalto Unversity. All Rights Reserved.

Occupy Reimagining Design  

2011 Interview with Humantifc CoFounder, GK VanPatter by Wycliffe Raduma of Aalto University Design Factory in Finland.

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