On November 30th the Italian OD&M course “Design Driven Strategies” began. The course is organized by the faculty of Architecture and Design University of Florence together with CSM – Centro Sperimentale del Mobile – a consortium association of companies operating in the furniture sector – and LAMA Agency, a consulting company and founder of the social innovation coworking space “Impact Hub” in Florence.

We interviewed the Professor of Design for Sustainability, Giuseppe Lotti and the expert of European projects of LAMA Laura Martelloni, to better understand the opportunities offered by the course, and its innovative features.

The word “Design” is now popular, but its meaning can vary greatly depending on its application: what is meant by “Design Driven Strategies”?

GL: The competitiveness of companies and territories depends on the ability to define innovative strategies. These can be guided by design, which can be considered as a discipline to foreshadow the future, to perform the function of synthesis and catalysis of interdisciplinary contributions, making innovation immediately expendable.

LM: The thought behind this course is to recognize that those who now design products, services, experiences, does it within an increasingly complex, in an interconnected and uncertain system. A need for a new set of knowledge and skills therefore arises, as well as a need for new learning environments, able to go beyond training ‘in silos’. With this course we move towards systemic skills and competences, useful to work in complexity, recognizing that complexity needs to be analysed from different points of view. The designer of the 21st century will increasingly make use of a mix of “hard” and “soft” skills: therefore, we want to train designers able to involve different disciplines and communities, to find new answers within a context that changes rapidly, continually forcing us to change models and frameworks. In other words, the economic and social transformations encourage us to think designers as professionals who help to create hybrids between products, experiences and services.

The course is organized around innovative teaching methods: can you describe them?

GL: The course is the work of several actors, with different approaches, methods and tools. The methodological rigour and the importance of theoretical-critical contributions are typical of the university; the experimental approach from the makers and practitioners’ communities is LAMA’s added value; the challenges of companies from CSM brings concreteness, applications and impact.

LM: The training method has three main characteristics: it is experiential, distributed, collaborative.

“Experiential” means that we rely on real challenges around which students will experience a learning experience. We would like to try to challenge the traditional culture of ‘learning outcomes’ and KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), to focus instead on the process as an experience of open learning, not necessarily predefined. In the course, through moments of peer review, students will understand what they are learning, considering the plurality of contexts in which they learn as the guiding principle of evaluation. Self-evaluation, peer evaluation and more traditional evaluation will all play an important role.

“Distributed” regards the decentralization of the method. Students will learn not only with traditional lessons, but especially through the experiences they will have and the people they will be in contact with during the whole process. We want to stimulate students to deepen the contents both in team and independently. We will use principles and approaches of communities of practice, stimulating the creation of a community of learners, operating with self-regulation and self-organization dynamics.

“Collaborative” means that all the work is done in a team, and that the ultimate goal is to build fluid communities of practice, that collaborate, experiment and learn.

Finally, I would like to underline how the recognition of skills is also achieved through an innovative method that will allow the construction of digital portfolios, able to read the entire hard and soft set of skills acquired through the learning path.

What is the added value of organizing a training course that takes place not only in university classrooms? And what are the challenges related to this approach?

GL: We are talking about design-driven innovation and research projects. Design, by its nature, is not a discipline that works only in university classrooms but has an innate ability to get your hands on, as defined above.

LM: Uniting Impact Hub Florence, the University of Florence and an ecosystem of local businesses is an opportunity for students to reconnect meanings and actions that we often live discontinuously and fragmented. It is an attempt to link formal, non-formal and informal learning contexts in a single sense framework, understanding how each of these contexts can bring value into a training experience.

The course is organized within the European Erasmus + program, Knowledge Alliances. What are the motivations and added value of working in parallel with other universities (in London, Bilbao Dabrowa Gornicza,)?

GL: The first added value is certainly represented by the possibility of comparing different production and research entities. This stimulates the development of good practices and the overall growth of our respective educational systems.

LM: The motivations are many: listening, exchanging practices, learning how others do things.

The project itself is a gym for us to work in complexity: when you work simultaneously with four countries, ten partners, the related teams, made up of people who perform very different functions, you are part of a great gear. From this point of view, I believe that programs like Erasmus have a great added value not only in supporting the innovation of training – today an urgent need in the face of the great transformations of the fourth industrial revolution – but also in bringing Europe closer.

Finally, who do you think are the right people to take part in the course? And for what reasons?

GL: The right people are first of all curious people! “If you are not curious, forget it”. Achille Castiglioni.

LM: The course addressed to anyone who has to do with the design of products and services, taking care of their social and environmental consequences. Personally, I hope that this will include also designers in the social sphere. I believe that in these areas the opportunities from the point of view of knowledge and skills are still untapped. The course could also be an opportunity for third sector designers to try to radically change the way they look at the design of their services.

The training brochure (in Italian) can be found here. A more detailed description can be found here.

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