In his far-reaching talk given at the Melbourne School of Design, Dan Hill of Sitra and the Helsinki Design Lab expands on the rarely discussed challenges to design that he calls “dark matter”: a term borrowed from the historian Wouter Vanstiphout referring to the hidden mass of policies and power that affect decision-making, the process, as well as the success or failure of projects. It’s part of the strategic design approach that the Lab uses and promotes.
“Strategic design is about applying the principles of traditional design to "big picture" systemic challenges such as healthcare, education and climate change. It redefines how problems are approached and aims to deliver more resilient solutions.”
To do so he starts by humbly going back on (spectacular) projects he was involved with that failed. He explains some of the causes before going into overviews of their studio process as well as how stewardship of a project is important and helps in connecting policy to projects. Another concept reviewed is that of the Trojan Horse; using parts of a project to introduce other issues, for example the use of a timber structure in the design of their next headquarters so as to address city policies that prevent such structures. By tackling this issue themselves, they take away some of the hurdles for other subsequent projects by others and open up new potential directions for the Finnish lumber industry.
Another big part of the talk is about working with a decision-making platform. Under various ideas and projects, HDL tries to create opportunities to help the Finnish system absorb greater diversity. One example is “Sitra's recent work regarding street food, which tries to understand the city through the lens of food, which describes the city's approach to public space, cultural diversity, health, regulation and governance, habits and rituals, logistics and waste, and more.”
The same ideas are also covered in the ebook of the same name, published with Strelka Press out of Moscow.