Declare your intention!

Lessons from Wired by Design: In an era of unprecedented technological power, design projects require a strong foundation

I recently attended the first Wired by Design conference in Marin County, Calif. I was honored to be chosen and honestly intimidated to find myself surrounded by some of the most influential thinkers and doers across the creative spectrum.

As is the case with these kinds of formats — imagine 15-minute TED Talk-like sessions — it was a bit like drinking from an inspiration fire hose. However, I did take away a timely and clear theme: We have entered an era of intentionality. Technology has given us an unmatched era of design. It has provided the tools and capacity to turn almost anyone into a creator or designer. That is not news. However, providing the context and foundation for your creative or design process has never been more important.

Designing is a purposeful act, yet many steps can deviate from our original intent. Client requests, shifting business cases, even project staffing changes can obscure what we are truly solving for.

Designing can also be a connection to personal passions that coincide with business, cultural, political, and societal needs. Declaring your intention from the outset can ensure the vision you and the client have for the work.

In my own process at Isobar, I like to augment our typical project briefs. This typically comprises either a conceptual brief or what we call "Design Pillars" unique to each project. I consider it essential to declare our intention. For creatives and designers, it not only frames our process in real-world terms, it also lifts them up to loftier, more emotional, more inspirational goals.

It’s easy to lose this thread in fast-paced, ever-shifting design processes that demands a technology solution developed by multidisciplinary teams. Worse yet, sometimes it's simply set aside for expediency’s sake. Declaring a clear and simple intention from the outset keeps priorities front and center.

I would like to mention a session with Sarah Stein Greenberg, executive director of the Stanford D School. She spoke passionately about design education and higher education in general in a talk titled "How to Reimagine College."

Greenberg detailed a recent project the school and students undertook to reimagine our university system. As she stated, we are in the most complex world we have ever seen. Our challenges are massive, and the students of today need to be the most daring problem-solvers ever. As part of this, the team posited that universities shouldn’t be just four-year programs. Why can’t a student participate in what they called an Open Loop University? That system could last a lifetime and respond to ever-changing personal, societal and business needs.

It also means rethinking the college major. Why do we ask students to declare narrow areas of study? How is that supposed to help them with an uncertain future and complex problems?

Their teams reimagined this idea, and instead of declaring a major they proposed a system in which students would declare a mission. For instance, what if you could apply to the School of Poverty? Or perhaps the School of Hunger? This would allow you to curate an educational process and pull from all educational disciplines. It could provide students with multidisciplinary approaches to solving our most complex issues.

This is in effect the same as declaring your intention. By stating up front what your mission is, you can stay on the path to solve complex problems.

Better yet, we can create amazing solutions.

Ricardo Salema is a creative director at Isobar.

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