Finalist 2022

SEED/ing Transformative Change

Lisa Grocott / Emerging Technologies Research Lab, Monash University / Design for Social Responsibility Series, Routledge / Wendy Ellerton

The SEED/ing Transformative Change project presents a playful, practical strategy for learning from and adapting to a rapidly changing world.

SEED is a strategic framework for learning from and adapting to a rapidly changing world. The framework is the actionable insight that emerged from the Design for Transformative Learning book and companion website. SEED represents the translation of practice-based research stories, resources and case studies into a 4-part strategic design approach to co-designing transformation. Disinterested in reducing design to a toolkit of methods, the project shares a complex set of design processes, provocations, moves and mindsets that can be adapted for unique situations. SEED then scaffolds the shift-work required to navigate uncertain futures, unlearn old habits and embrace new practices.

Design Brief:

As we transition into the fourth industrial revolution, the call for finding ways to work differently together and the urgency of global challenges become harder to ignore. Just as the profession evolved service design, SEED offers a design-led, research-informed practice of transformation design. Committed to driving meaningful change the strategic framework connects a structural and systems lens with a people-centred and participatory orientation. The applied research offers a lexicon and literature for supporting the complex work of navigating systemic and ethical challenges — like the climate crisis, social injustice, income inequality. The book and website together make a compelling argument for how design encounters can transform through memory-making and perspective-shifting experiences. Developed for design practitioners the international case studies, first person narratives, and workshop vignettes illuminate the creative and participatory ways co-design bring something to the curious and courageous challenge of shift-work.


This project was developed by:

Design Process

The work of radically reimagining sustainable, just and equitable futures, in a post-COVID-19 world, calls for getting critical and curious about what was previously normalised. This research project translates what design can bring to this work of perspective shifting. The research recognises that systemic change will be transdisciplinary work and decades in the making. Yet, in naming how the experiential and relational practice of co-design primes people to reflect, share and make, the research builds the business and intellectual case for design’s contribution in engaging learners and citizens in transformation projects. In turn, driving demand for transformation design services. SEED is an acronym for surfacing scripts, envisaging futures, experiencing shifts and driving intentions. Seen as ways to seed wonder, these strategic insights position the role of design in the more-than-cognitive task of shiftwork.

The book elaborates the ways and the website shares resources for designing encounters that will fuel inquiry and invite introspection, call for better questions and forge new paths. The project includes evidence-based research from social and cognitive psychology complement the world views of Indigenous knowing. Case study analysis is in conversations with autoethnographic narratives of practice. Figuring, a visual communication method, is used to theorise design knowing in ways salient to the design community. Committed to cognitive, contextual and cultural diversity the research project includes stories from interdisciplinary scholars, doctoral dissertations, professional practice and nation-wide initiatives. Embracing diversity, sharing what design does well, and exploring what design can learn from other fields the research presents 8 case studies, 8 practice vignettes, 12 transformation narratives, 13 keywords, 2 digital templates, 3 actionable frameworks and countless methods and references. Projects are from India, Mexico, Finland, USA, Australia and NZ, with Māori, Aboriginal and Mayan lenses illuminating first nation perspectives.

Design Excellence

If design is interested in leading transformation that is about more than a shift from analog to digital then SEED offers to the profession a robust, informed, co-creative approach to not just engaging with the observable above-water aspect of the iceberg. Informed by interdisciplinary evidence-based research the strategies present ways to engage clients, communities and other partners in surfacing the oftentimes invisible values, beliefs, mental models and world views that drive the observable behaviour and reflect the systems we live in.

Motivated by the importance of research leaving the academy the website translates the 250+ page book into bite sized methods and easily digestible summaries of SEED and other frameworks. In rethinking how academic work is repackaged and communicated to professional audiences the website, Designing for Transformative Learning, is a resource for a community of professional and academic design researchers that includes case studies, extended stories of practice, conceptual frameworks, downloadable activities and digital templates. SEED productively situates Design within Interdisciplinary Collaborations: This strategy makes the case for including designers in tackling complex, global challenges.

The evidence-based research from cognitive and social psychology translates for designers why the visual, haptic and creative work we produce supports strong memory-traces and ultimately shifts in perspective. Deepens our understanding of the potential of design: the novel use of Indigenous knowing in conversation with scientific literature and applied case studies reveals new ways to question and reframe the role, the ethics and accountabilities of strategic design. Disrupts how we share design knowing: with a commitment to engaging readers and audiences in meaningful ways the innovative use of autoethnography, the open source digital templates, the free visual cheat-sheets explore different approaches for disseminating academic scholarship.

Design Innovation

The project presents a professional opportunity for transformation designers operating at the intersection of design strategy, systems design, service design and relational design. The project further presents a new research method for interrogating design practice that offers a practice-led way to learning from designing that could be adopted by studios and agencies as a fast and playful way to debrief from practice experiences. HCD illuminated design’s role in finding empathy. HCD invited design to move beyond the making of things to the making of services and experiences.

Designers could tackle more complex systems and behaviour change. Yet academic literature and practice observations expose how attempts at changing behaviour are often thwarted by underlying social, cultural and personal norms, biases and mental models we unconsciously hold dear. To this gap design can offer more than empathy-building and behavioural nudges. This project offers practitioners an expansive lexicon for describing what design brings to nuanced, complex shift-work. The research makes known the cognitive, playful and experiential capacity of design to scaffold the unsettling of long-held meaning structures, imagining new tomorrows and rehearsing different ways of showing up.

The design research praxis narratives in the book present a research method innovation. The author, a Māori woman from Aotearoa, works with auto-ethnography (first-person narratives) to reflexively interrogate how her lived experiences in NZ, Melbourne and New York shifted her design practice. These narratives braid together holistic, Indigenous ways of being, with scientific evidence-based ways of knowing and embodied practice-based ways of doing. This creative research method aligns with the ethos of co-design to privilege lived experience and in return presents new constellations of design practice by interrogating and disseminating critical stories of making.

Design Impact

An exemplar of impactful research and practice the project has potential to contribute across scholarly, sectorial and societal domains. Commissioned for world-class publisher Routledge by the Design Research Society President Rachael Cooper, the book is a testament to the rigour and respect of a decade of research. The first practice-based book in the series, renown co-designer Tuuli Mattlemaki said of her advance copy that it was immediately referenced by students and used to make the argument for design in interdisciplinary sustainability grants. The societal impact will come from design encounters that lead to sustained change.

The visual cheat sheets allowed the strategy to be easily communicated to partners across multiple sectors. SEED has been embedded in projects as wide-ranging as: professional development for Australian Public Servants, educational curriculum for every student at a Brazilian university, and a public+private sector Community of Practice around Social Innovation in New Zealand. The design sector impact lies with evidencing the professional capacity of design to support transformative learning. Penny Hagen said the project’s elevation of un/learning within co-design shifted Auckland Co-Design Lab’s mission to work differently together with community.

The project celebrates this inquisitive, intentional orientation. Getting curious about the stories we tell ourselves, the present we inhabit and the future we imagine, is how we learn and un/learn together. Design’s speculative yet strategic capacity then wonders these new futures into existence. Together the not-prescriptive strategy, research integrity, innovative research methods and accessible insights present an animating force for driving sustained transformation that sticks.

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