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Sustainable Strategy: Quadruple-Bottom-Line Design Thinking


Designing With a Purpose: Strategy’s Role in Design Thinking


Developing Your Sustainable Project Strategy: Quadruple-Bottom-Line Design Thinking

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David Berman on Sustainable Design Thinking Strategy

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Transcript | David Berman on Sustainable Design Thinking Strategy

This is a transcript of the video David Berman on Sustainable Design Thinking Strategy.

(David Berman appears on camera in front of his presentation displaying on screen and faces the audience for the duration of this video. David is wearing a dark grey suit with a black shirt and tie.)

So here is Norway. This is actual scale– scaled up. So you see, we’re just a little bit larger. So we just have the same kind of trees, there is just more of them. And we have the same type of economy, too. We’re both blessed with wood. And that was our old way. And blessed with oil, and that’s our new way. And as much as we claim to be world environmental leaders, just like Norway, we must admit there we’re running on oil. And we can’t run on oil forever. And just like Norway, we’re really good at taking our oil and shipping it to other countries, where they turn it into useful things, rather than figuring out how to design our own products.

And I know this is changing. And I know there’s a remarkable movement in Norway to design and make here. But, for the most part, the most of our oil based products, in Canada, are made somewhere else, and then they come back to us. And that’s a double problem. So we have the sustainability problem of being addicted to oil. We have the sustainability problem of shipping these things all over the place. And then, of course, there’s the core themes, which you mentioned, of do we need all this stuff anyway. And I promise I won’t preach that today. Because what I will promise, too, I won’t preach to you at all about the need for sustainable design, because I think we all know there’s a need for sustainable design.

And this is the challenge, because how many of us here, today, are designers? Could I have a show of hands? So most of us claim to be designers. Anyone else who claims not to be a designer? All right, you see, I think we live– thank you– I think we live in a world, now, where everyone’s a designer. We live in a world where everyone has the power to shape their own experience. And, indeed, as I’m going to unfold to you, I think design is one of the key things that makes humans different from others.

So we’re living in a world where everyone’s a designer. Here’s some designers– oh, this is– I’ll fix that at the break, I promise. Here’s some designers I met recently. This is part of a project from a designer I know in Chicago. And, see, what we found is that these guys are using communication design to get a strategic outcome. The left one is more specific about how he will invest your money. The right one is– it’s more a matter of you investigate an idea. So but either way, these are people who are saying I know how to design. I know how to use communication design in order to get a strategic outcome.

Now we designer types, who claim to be designers, are much more sophisticated in our design work. And here’s an example of incredibly clever design. This is brilliant. It’s funny. It’s tasteful. But it’s also kind of horrible, because it’s part of a system which is supposed to convince women that there’s something wrong with their noses– that God didn’t design noses well enough, and humans must trump God. And so this is a design from Toronto, this is an ad for a cosmetic surgery company.

Now most doctors have dedicated their lives to doing good. Most doctors will do whatever is needed to help humanity. But if 2000 years ago, instead of doctors choosing a Hippocratic oath, instead they would decide that doctoring is going to be about just making money, then they’d all be cosmetic surgeons. Or perhaps what they would be doing is waiting till we’re close to death, and then say to us, “OK, I have this medicine. It will give you another month of life. I want everything you own for that month.” And, of course, people would give everything they own, perhaps, for one more month of life. But that would be wrong. And so most doctors are ethical. And they’ve created a professional standard that is higher than just making money.

And in the design world, 10 years ago, I started marching around complaining and proclaiming that we had to do the same thing. That we needed a professional standard where designers weren’t just about making money, not just about being clever, but being wise.

So that first core idea, though, of designers just being involved in helping make profit, is where design emerged from, in the 20th century. As a means to a capitalist outcome. And I have no problem with capitalism. I have no problem with the free market. But I do have a problem with design only being used for one bottom line, because today we’re going to talk about four bottom lines, a quadruple bottom line.

The second bottom line is pretty obvious– not just profit but planet. And, of course, we all know that sustainability is something we need. Now, in fact, it’s come to the point where if I speak to designers or non designers about environmental sustainability people are sick of it. They’re sick of hearing about it. And I think this is absolutely fantastic, because 10 years ago, if you told designers that the environment was the most important problem on the planet, they’re like I don’t know about that, really, dada da– Today, you can’t go to a design conference where every speaker, at some point, will trace what they’re talking about back to a need for a more sustainable planet, environmentally. So I think that’s fantastic.

So if we’re getting bored about hearing about environmental sustainability, then yippee. That is a fantastic shift in 10 years. And it shows us what’s possible in our own lifetime. It shows us, just in one decade, that how we define our profession can shift. It’s up to us. Because over 95% of the designers, who’ve ever lived, are alive right now. And so we can decide what design will be about, whether we’re creating the designs, making the designs, consuming the designs, we can decide what role design will have in our society. I’d like to go further then, because here’s the reality, we can all design things with recycled papers, and we can figure out all kinds of things the napkin at my breakfast, this morning, at the hotel, it talked about how this napkin was made of recycled stuff–

In fact, my room key, beautiful hotel I’m at. It’s quite remarkable, there’s no phones in the rooms. It’s kind of odd, I didn’t know how to get a wake up call this morning. This is my room card. It says, “This card is manufactured from wood and contains mostly unaltered plant materials. A wood card is an environmentally friendly alternative to plastic and derives from a renewable resource. Please return upon check out.” That’s really sweet. It’s just a little bit though.

And the fact is we have these huge amounts of materials being consumed because, in reality, as designers, as a community of which there’s over two million designers in the world, we could probably have just as much impact by not eating meat. Now that’s a lot to ask, especially in Norway, not to eat meat. But I think in 10 years, or 20 years, I hope I’ll be back. And we’ll all be vegetarians, and will have realized that hmmm, there’s rights for animals. But it’s not my intention to preach on this. What wouldn’t matter, though, is we realize that if we’re going to eat meat, at least consider this, if the United States stopped eating meat because of the amount of methane that comes out of cows that affects the ozone layer, it would be enough of an offset to be the equivalent of eliminating half of the cars in the United States. That’s how big an impact would be.

So imagine if 2 million designers stopped eating meat. That would have big change. I don’t expect you to stop eating meat. And I certainly don’t expect you to stop eating gravlax. That’s the best breakfast. But, at least, perhaps, consider this– temporarily, I thought maybe you could switch to eating kangaroo. Because kangaroo doesn’t fart. It’s true. Kangaroos don’t give off any methane, and it’s just how their stomachs are made, and they don’t ruin the topsoil. So I’m wondering, would you be willing to have kangaroos come to Norway and just be out there? Wouldn’t that be cool? We could kill them, and them , too. It’s a thought.

My point is that there’s a lot of different ways that we can find our way to sustainability. I have this thing about animals. And I know at a certain point, well, I have this thing about tigers and cats. And here’s my Spice, the little tiger, OK, she’s a cat. But she doesn’t know it. She thinks she’s a tiger, OK? And she doesn’t understand English. And she certainly doesn’t understand Bokma. So don’t tell her, OK.

So I was in Thailand, last year, and I met these remarkable people, these Buddhist monks, were running a temple where they help tigers. And, see, this is the thing– we live in this absolutely remarkable time, because, truly, things have never been more fragile. But, as well, they’ve never been more hopeful, because it’s never been easier for us to create ideas and share them all over the planet. But at the same time, when I was born, there was a certain number of tigers in the world. And today, just in one lifetime, one part of a lifetime, 80% of the tigers that were alive when I was– the tiger population is only one fifth of what it was when I was born. And a hundred years ago– well, in the last hundred years we’ve lost two of seven species of tigers entirely. And I’d like to think, when I die, there’ll be tigers left.

So how do we turn that around? Well these Buddhist monks are trying to create a habitat for the tigers. And so if you go there, we get to learn about the tigers and live with the tigers. And in fact, I’ve met with the leader of this place, and now we’re working together to create a communication strategy so they can raise awareness for the tigers and give them back the habitat they need. Because the idea is not to create a zoo. The idea is to create a habitat. Because the reason 80% percent of the tiger population has disappeared, in my lifetime, in the world, is because there’s no place for them to live. We’ve taken down their forests. And we’ve taken away their food sources. And everyone loves tigers. But how is that we can love tigers so much, and yet we’ve lost 80% of them. What are we doing wrong? There’s something fundamentally wrong.

Look at this font. This is a Dutch font. This is a way that we can save toner. This is called an eco font. And these designers– these type designers– they took an ordinary typeface. And they simply put these little white dots in the letters. The idea is that if you roll out this font across a whole corporation, the entire corporation will use 25% less ink and 25% less toner. Isn’t that clever? And you don’t have to be a designer to redesign things this way. You don’t have to change the design of any of the documents. And the amount of impact that would have in a huge corporation, compared to the impact– and I’m not saying we shouldn’t do a lot of little things. We’ve got to do a lot of little things. We’ve got to do some big things as well.

And, in fact, they’re now coming out with a version of their software which can take any font and convert it, in real time, into an eco font. Because, of course, you could do this to any font that has a certain minimum stroke width. It’s not going to work so well with serif fonts, of course, but sans serif fonts, over a certain thickness, medium, or both, are going to work out this way. Clever, huh?

And here’s another example of a broad stroke. Ingrid, where are you? Hey, Ingrid. OK, so photo credit– Ingrid took this picture of me in Berlin, last year. And it was just so serendipitous that we happened to run into each other. We were at a design conference there. But what I wanted to show you– Erik Spiekermann, he designed this new mark for Deutsche Bahn, the transit system in Germany. And this is the thing, he took the old Deutsche Bahn mark, and he designed a whole new identity.

But one of the things he did was he made the letters thinner. And by making the letters thinner, the amount of paint, that just goes on the trains, was reduced. The amount of train paint reduced was enough to pay for the entire commission from Spiekermann associates– 150,000 euros saved, just in paint, in money, as well as the system as well as the environmental impact, just by thinning a letter. Now that’s not what we usually think about when we’re thinking about identity design and sustainability. But simply using less ink is a clever approach.

But this is my very favorite example of industrial design sustainability. This is a bookcase designed by William Warren, who is a designer in London, England. He’s a guy I know. And he created this bookcase. And the idea is that you can get the plans for the bookcase. It’s a number of pieces of wood, and you put them together, and it creates a bookcase, which is pretty normal.

Except what’s special about his bookcase is this– when you die, someone, I guess, disassembles the bookcase for you and rearranges it into this coffin. Or, I guess, if you know your death is imminent, you have the ceremony where you take apart your bookcase. And part of what I love about this, of course, is this is true cradle to cradle design, right? Cradle to grave. But also I love the idea that you’re living with your own coffin. And every day you recognize that you’ll be a lot longer dead than you’ll be alive. That every day, your final resting place is right there with you.

And so you’re thinking, maybe, at some level, you’re thinking, there in your living room, as you’re listening to music, you’re looking at the book, and you’re thinking, “Hmmm, what legacy will I leave?” Because I’m not sure when I’m leaving, and I have to be ready at any time. To think I have left a legacy where– do I want my tombstone to say, “David Berman, he was really good at tricking people in to using things they didn’t need.” I don’t think so. I think I want a tombstone that says something like, “David Berman, he left things better than he found them. Hmm, he shared a few good ideas.”

And indeed, that is the legacy we have. Now back in 1988, though, I want to tell you a bit of my story. Back in 1980, I had just become a designer. And I wasn’t thinking about legacy. And I wasn’t thinking about sustainability. All I was thinking about was typography. I loved letters. I’d stay up all night arranging letters in my perfect little design world– perfect little grids, and color, and x-acto knives, and wax, because that’s when it was.

And I thought that was enough, until the girlfriend on the back of my scooter– she convinced me– she was an ardent feminist, and she convinced me that there was more to it. She declared to me that designers were the source of all the problems in the world, because we were objectifying women. We were the ones who were designing advertisements, which were taking women’s body parts and rearranging them, and twisting people’s behavior and convincing them to use sex to sell things, and et cetera. And I thought, oh, come on. That’s crazy. I’m just a designer. I’m not responsible for any of that. I just follow orders. I was just following orders, not a good answer.

So she convinced me. And I wrote up this manifesto. And I brought this manifesto, back in 1988, to the graphic designers of Canada meeting, and at the end of the annual general meeting, which was very boring, and they said, “Is there any other business?” And I stood up and I said, “Yes, I’d like to read this. I think it’s important that graphic designers have to own visual communications and feminism and environmentalism and all that before. And they said, “You should join the executive.”

And that’s when I got involved in my local studio. And I started– all my clients were now about environmentalism and good things like this. And, at the time, environmentalism was becoming important in the world. And then something remarkable came, one of my heroes, Gro Harlem Brundtland. OK, I can do this, Gro Harlem Brundtland, she took a great Norwegian idea of baerekraft, and it was translated into this word “sustainability.” You must know this, the whole story, you must know she invented the idea of sustainability. And Norway exported this idea, and this great movement began. And I mean she is baerekraft. I mean, she saw it and she’s forever, and no matter who doesn’t agree with that, her legacy will always be there. She’s a design thinker. And this was inspiring to us in Canada. And inspired me.

And at same time, something else happened– my daughter came into the world. This is 20 years ago, 20 years ago sustainability, 20 years ago my daughter comes into the world. Now these children– these are girls the same age as my daughter. And I bring you right up to the present day. They’re from a place called the Carteret Islands, which is very close to Indonesia, which I just got to visit earlier this year. And they are part of a community which has an infamous distinction. Because the Carteret Islands, just this past year, have the distinction of being the first civilization to be completely destroyed by an unsustainable world. The Carteret Islands have completely gone underwater, and they had to evacuate the population forever. Their whole way, their culture, their society, their people– all had to be moved away. The Carteret Islands are no more.

So if there’s anyone wondering, is global warming for real, is climate change for real, I say, ask these people. Because these people didn’t do the consuming. And they didn’t do the designing. But they are doing the evacuating. And in fact, it’s these many small things that every day, in our world, build up towards many little things. Because there’s extreme things that happen in our world that make the headlines. And some of them are horrible and some of them are wonderful. But the real headlines in our world are the things that happen every day. And each one of these headlines that really should be in our newspaper, which are not in our newspaper, occur every day– today, tomorrow– and every one of them is an example of something that designers are responsible for making happen by using the power of design. Every one of them is also an example of something the designers can help change, can help with strategic design thinking, can help find a better way, a better world.

People tend to think of designer as decoration. Design is life and death. Consider this, this is the standard traffic lights– I’m wondering if we could just turn the lights off for a moment, ’cause this would be a little clearer. Just the lights here in the front. Thank you. So this is a standard traffic light. And what I’ve done is I’ve just isolated it. The same lights we use in Norway, in the United States, in Canada– the classic green and red light. And this is the same lights when we take all the color away. Now almost 10% of the men in Norway are colorblind, to some degree. And the largest cause of accidental death in Norway is traffic accidents. And the majority of those traffic accidents occur at intersections, or roads meet. So I ask you, this is what a fully colorblind person sees as they drive towards an intersection at night. And if it’s at night, you can’t tell the difference between the green and the red, because everything’s the same about it. So it’s a crazy design.

Now this is a traffic light we’re testing in Canada now. It also uses color, but this is what it looks like when we want to say stop. But it has two lamps for red, one lamp for green. The red lamps look square, not round, and as well, there’s the color. So there’s three cues. We have color, we have shape, and we also have how many there are.

And what we find is people prefer these. Not just colorblind people, everyone prefers them. Everyone prefers these lights. These lights don’t cost anymore to make. And in fact, since we’re in a period where we’re going to have to convert every traffic light on the planet to LEDs anyway, because this is going to save electricity, why don’t we convert to these? People instantly know how to use them. No one had to explain it to anyone. And part of the reason everyone loves them is because there’s two lamps. Because of the parallax, as you’re driving towards them, you can tell how far away the intersection is and how quickly you’re approaching it. So it’s another case where we design something for the extremes everyone benefits.

When we design something for people with extreme deficits, everyone tends to benefit. And this is design for all. [SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]. So, and indeed, we live in a time when this type of design, which is subtle, can have a larger affect.

So when I look at this girl– is using a technology which allows her– this is a technology that allows someone who is paraplegic, that is someone who has no use of their limbs from the neck down, so you can’t use your arms or your legs, but you can move your head. And she can surf the internet using this device. Because it’s called a sip puff device. And what happens is, by moving her head it’s like moving the mouse around. And when she sips and puffs on the tube, it’s like clicking the mouse. So this sip puff device allows her access to the internet. And not just to the internet– means access to almost everything. Information technology’s made it possible for us to make all the knowledge of the world accessible to everyone if we format correctly.

And in fact, half of the work I do today is about web accessibility– how we’re making the web accessible to people with disabilities and difficulties. And what we’re finding is, as we do this, we’re making websites better, in general. When we design for the extremes, we’re actually designing for all. We tend to think thought, again, that it’s the right thing to do– to take care of people with disabilities. Why wouldn’t we, just in Norway or Canada, we’re societies where we don’t want to leave anyone behind. And we tend to think about people with extreme disabilities– paraplegics, blind people, completely deaf people.

But the reality is that many more of us have difficulties than we think. In fact, would you do a little experiment with me right now? Even if I don’t tell you what it is? Wow, thank you. That’s a lot of trust. Here’s what I’d like to do. I’d like to get an idea of how many people, in this room, have a difficulty or a disability. But I don’t want to embarrass anyone. So this is what I’d like to do, I’m going to list off a number of different disabilities, and then I’ll ask you, all at once, to stand up if you have any of them. And by the way, I have two of the things I’m going to list. I bet by the end of the day you can figure out which of those two things. So here’s my list. And remember, don’t stand up until the end. I’ll tell you when to stand up.

So here’s my list. Are you colorblind? Do you wear glasses? Do you have a hearing impairment? Are you in a wheelchair? OK, you don’t have to stand up if you’re in a wheelchair. Have you ever had your arm in a cast for more than three days? Do you have an attention deficit disorder? Do have dyslexia? Are you already getting bored with my list? Have you had laser eye surgery? Do you have trouble reading the type on my screen from the back of the room? Do you have any type of hearing impairment? Anything else that’s a difficulty? Are you ever on the bus, and you’re holding the groceries on one arm, and you can’t use your smartphone in the other, this is a temporary impairment. OK, I could say do you ever get drunk, but that would be too easy. OK, so if you have any of these things, I’d like you to stand up. And let’s see how many people we’re dealing with here. Oh, my goodness. OK this is a little more than I expected. Wow. Well actually, if you’re planning on living over the age of 45, you might as well stand up as well, because your eyesight will go.

OK, so my designer friends, I want you to look left and look right. And I want you to think about this, when you’re designing products, websites, printed materials, built environment, for people with disabilities, these are the well dressed, stylish, classy, people you’ll be designing for. Not some shut-ins in some apartment. These are the people you’re designing for when we design for disabilities. Thank you so much for making yourselves vulnerable. Wow. I’m sorry if you don’t have a disability and you felt left out. Ha ha, wow.

The truth is that in the last 40 years more people have been liberated through information technology than all the wars and revolutions in human history. And this is an exciting part to be involved in when we deal with design today. And of course the Norwegian Design Counsel is a leader in this area– running conferences and meetings, publishing books, all about design for all. They were talking about it long before others were.

So this brings in my triple bottom line– my third bottom line, which is people. And I’m defining this– I’m setting the bar high, because I’m saying that accessible design, universal design, is a core part of social responsibility and taking care of people. So now we have three. The triple bottom line– profit, planet, and people. And you often may have heard. Have you ever heard of this term, the triple bottom line? Anyone?

OK, have you ever heard of a quadruple bottom line. Today I share with you the quadruple bottom line. Because I want to make it even tougher on you. But let me go back. So as was mentioned in the introduction, thank you so much, back in 2000, I recognized this importance of social design. And so we did develop a code of ethics in Canada. And then in 2005, I had the fortune of coming to Norway for the first time and got involved with Icograda. And some people I met here– I met in this very building– I threw down a challenge then. I said that there was a need for a code of ethics for designers and illustrators right here in Norway.

And it’s, frankly, I must admit every time I come to a country, I make the same pitch. And sometimes people listen, but often they don’t. But then I got a call back. I got a call back from the Americans and the American Institute of Graphic Arts, which is like Grafill in the United States. They asked us to help work with them to create a commitment to society and the environment to their code of ethics. And then, in 2008, Norway– Grafill, not only decided to amend their code of ethics, but they also created certification for designers– the first time in Europe. And this leads the world. And I have to tell you, as I travel this planet, and go from country to country, and tell good news stories, you should know that I talk about Norway every time. Because I’m so excited about the fact that, in North America, we were the first ones to– and Ontario– to certify design– to say this is just as certifiable as being a nurse, or an engineer, or a doctor, or a lawyer. And in Norway, this is also true, the first in Europe. The first in most of the world. And so it’s a good news story. And it looks like the Indonesians are next. And they’re following your lead. They read your thing.

Then the next year, 2009, I wrote this book that you heard about, “Do Good Design.” And you have these cards. By the way, the reason you have all these cards is not just to encourage you to pledge, but today, for everyone who is staying, we’re going to use this is a voting card. So when it’s time to vote, this will be a yes– the red will be yes, and the white will be no. So that’s our voting cards.

And then I had the fortunate that the book got translated into Chinese, which meant now I was dealing with a much larger population than I ever imagined, including, it became a standard, this code of ethics, which is in the book, which talks about Grafill and talks about graphic designers of Canada, became a standard for a quarter of million Chinese design students. Can you imagine, there’s a quarter of a million design students in China. Is that intimidating? Or is it exciting? Or both?

And then this year, we took things from Indonesia, and that was very exciting. And finally, I’m so excited that there’s a Braille edition now of my book. But the reason I’m talking about this– because this internationalism has led us to a point where we have this opportunity to do good with design. And part of the way we have the opportunity is by taking advantage of the most practical place. I spoke about accessibility, and the most practical place that I think we can use design for all, to change the world, is on the internet. Because we have this thing– have you heard of the digital divide? This concept, anyone? The digital divide. What is the digital divide? Yes.

Exactly, and so we have a potential economic problem because of the population– there’s the digital have nots and the digital haves. People who don’t have the technology, and do have the technology, there’s a risk that there’ll be a gap of wealth, and knowledge, and experience, of those who have it and those who don’t. And the digital divide, in Norway, can be one of– perhaps by age or by population. But a friend of mine, Dr. Peter Brooke, from Salzburg, he speaks of the digital divide as four screens, the history of four screens. The first screen is the movie screen, and it’s the screen where communities first came together around a screen. And it’s very much like this, here we have a theater of people, and we’re all sharing an experience, which we can’t control, which we’re all watching together. And that was the first screen. The second screen was when that screen moved to the television. And the television moved it into the home, but also gave us some degree of control so we could use the remote control. And, to some degree, decide what it was we would consume.

And the television spread around the world at a speed that was a record of all technologies, ever, in the history of humanity– the television spread the quickest, because it was such an exciting idea. The third screen, though, was the laptop, the computer screen. And the computer screen allowed a truly interactive experience. So we went from a position where computers cost $10 million in the 1950s, and there were only four of them on the planet. And I remember, at the time, IBM was asked, how many computers do you think we’re going to have? And they were saying, oh, there will be a few hundred, I assure you. And of course, now computers are so ubiquitous, they’ve become so inexpensive to own, that there’s now movements to make sure that every child in the developing world has one.

But it’s the fourth screen– it’s the fourth screen that excites me the most. It’s this screen in my pocket. Because we tend to think of the internet as ubiquitous. That is, we tend to think of the internet is being everywhere, in our society, but in fact, for all of humanity, only 30% of the world has internet access. For the majority of humanity, the majority of humans, alive today, have never seen the internet– they’ve never touched, tasted it, smelled it, anything. It’s just a rumor, as Nicholas Negroponte says.

But this decade is going to change. By the end of this decade, that will change. By the end of this decade, the majority of humanity will be online. And what internet will we share with them? Will it be an internet that will convince them that they’re too short? That their skin’s the wrong color? That they don’t smell right? That they’re too fat? And that they need to consume stuff in order to be part of this global community? Or will it be an internet where we really share ideas the world really needs to hear? That we share our best ideas about sustainability, and medicine, and governance, and mathematics, and science, and computing, and all the wonderful knowledge we have to share. What will we choose to design?

I was a judge at a design competition in Delhi. And it was a United Nations initiative. And we were trying to look at the best digital products that have been developed to help you fulfill the Millennium Development Goals, that is, to help the developing world do better. And we saw the most amazing websites and mobile applications from all around the world. Beautiful, immersive things from over a 120 countries. But of the 1,000 entries we saw, there was one that excited me the most. And the one that excited me the most was so simple and so brilliant.

I’d like you to imagine a child, in your life, maybe it’s a three-year-old, maybe it’s your own child, a nephew, and niece. A child who is too young to explain what’s wrong with them. Imagine your daughter, for instance, and she wakes up in the night and she’s screaming in pain. There’s something terribly wrong and you don’t know what it is. Now in Norway or in Canada, there’s a phone number you can call. And you call, you speak to a doctor or nurse, and they tell you– and then let’s imagine you called and they said, oh no, we know exactly what’s wrong with her. It’s no problem at all. She just needs a certain medicine, and she needs it right away. So go to the 24 hour pharmacy. You drive through the 24 hour pharmacy, get the medicine, you bring it home, you give it to your daughter, and she’s OK. That’s the life we get to live.

But in Ghana, it’s not the same. In Ghana, 25% of the medicines are fake. So imagine you’re in Ghana, and you have your three-year-old, and you rush to the pharmacy in the middle the night. And you get the pills, but you don’t know if they’re going to do her any good. They may even kill her. That’s a horrible situation. That’s bad for the economy. It’s certainly bad for health. But it’s really– it’s an insult to dignity, it’s an insult to the dignity of humanity. But someone designed a solution. And it wasn’t a graphic designer or communications designer. It was just common folk, this group called mpedigree.org.

And they came up with this solution that is so brilliant. The way it works is that they work with the drug companies in Ghana, and so every drug has this number on it. And each number is unique to that bottle. And when you get to the pharmacy, all you do is you pull out your phone, and you send a text message to the certain address with that number, and you instantly get an answer back, yes or no. Is it officially good medicine or is it fake. It’s that simple. And that simple application, after seeing all these immersive, beautiful, color, flash, amazing things, this simple application, 128 characters, no fonts, no color, no intrigue, no flash, nothing, just 128 characters or pure design thinking that help save people, that help save dignity, that help save an economy.

That, to me, is sustainable design thinking. That, to me, is the type of thing we need to train ourselves to think about. Because there’s no question that we can do remarkable things with all the tools we have, but it’s the core idea, it’s the outcomes that really matter. If we haven’t clearly defined what it is we’re trying to get done, that doesn’t matter how well we do it, we’re going in the wrong direction.

So look at this power we have, meanwhile, at the collaborative. I want to show you an example.


Have any of you ever heard of this film? It’s called “Iron Sky.” You’ve heard of it? What’s special about this film? Yeah. Exactly, thank you. What’s your name? Thank you for volunteering. This, I’ll explain it, this film– what do you think the budget is for this film? It looks like a Hollywood production that’ll cost $50 million. The budget for this film is $110 thousand. It’s being crowdsourced on the internet.

We think about crowd sourcing as people, like, putting together Wikipedia together and putting words together. But this film is being produced by hundreds of people all around the world. And everything about it is up for grabs– the script, the set design, the actors, everything. All of the production management is being done online. And people are creating. So someone says, “Yeah, sure I’ll do the spaceship models for you. But if that’s the case, I want rewrite the script to include my favorite kind of spaceship model.” And this is exactly happening.

In fact, if you look at the different cuts, even of this trailer, over the last two years, it keeps changing, the plot line keeps changing based on who wants to do what. The remarkable thing is that, on one hand for designers, it should seem a little frightening, because it means that anyone can do what we’re doing, but at the same time, if we grab onto and say, no, no, no, no, what becomes possible? When we really embrace what happens when we have a truly– a culture. It’s called Wreckamovie, if you want to check it out. They’re making many films together, it’s just “Iron Sky” is the one that’s most elaborate.

And this is the part– and this is what I’m going to finish this introductory talk with, this is the key that gets us to the fourth bottom line, it’s about culture. And what I explain what I have in mind, I want to share with you this remarkable person I met in Java, the island of Java, in Indonesia, earlier this year. This is Singh. And Singh designed something amazing. It is this. It is Singh’s wooden radio. This radio, which is fully functioning– that’s weird, when he gave it to me, it was all in Indonesian. I don’t understand. But anyway, OK, so this radio– I’m going to pass around because it’s just– you’ll see the detailing, it’s just so beautiful.

So Singh created this wooden radio. And it’s a beautiful designed object. It’s made of beautiful woods, out of teak and mahogany. And Singh comes from this village, which is about a two hour drive from Yogyakarta, which is the second largest city in Indonesia. And he was born in this village of, perhaps, a couple of thousand people. And what’s happened is the population of the village has been going down as people move to the larger city. Now Singh came up with this idea of creating a radio, but he also wanted to create a place where the radios could be created. So here it is. And the radio is somewhat famous now around the world. It’s a complete working radio. It’s made of wood. And every part of it, every detail of the packaging, and the design, is exquisite, it’s thought out, it’s pure design thinking.

But what’s really amazing isn’t the radio at all. What I found, what really amazed me, was the way he’s created the place for the radios to be made. Because this is the space– Singh, he employees all people from his village. What he did was he moved back to the village where he grew up, and he built this building, which is the factory, and he built a second building, which is where he lives with his wife next door. And they raise their own trees. So here we can see the place where they grow the trees. He created a forest where they grow the trees, even though it takes 30 years to grow the mahogany, he’s a patient man. And in between the trees, he also has these troughs, so that they raise fish in between the troughs of the trees. And then when the fish grow, then the employees get to bring home fish to their families to eat. So they’re feeding the village.

He wanted to design a product. And he didn’t start off with the radio. In fact, he tried many products that failed, and failed, and failed, and failed. As we know, we all think, oh, the radio, he thought of it, he did it. No, it took him 10 years of trying different products. What he wanted was a product which was very small, because he didn’t want to have to use huge pieces of wood. He wanted to get a lot of value at a very small piece of wood. He wanted to change the attitude about how we use wood. So he thought a radio would be good, because what he could use is very relatively small pieces of wood that could be made into something useful. And he also could create a factory where the level of skill required is something he could teach people to do in a few days.

And so he built this factory where they could make the radios. And indeed, I was able to watch them– you’ll see the radio speaker, every hole is hand drilled, every piece is handmade. And so this person has learned to use this wood drill to create the holes in the radio. And they’re assembling, and packaging, and even the box is brilliant and the grommets are all thought out. And so it’s very nice. But at the same time, when I came to the factory, all of the villagers, when they come to work, they arrive, and they have these little motorcycles. And it’s funny because it’s not that big a village. They don’t really need motorcycles. I said, “Singh, why do they all drive these motorcycles to get to work?” And he says because they can. Because they can’t afford to own a house, and they can’t afford to own a car, but they can afford to aspire to own a motorcycle. And so it’s a matter of social status. And it actually frustrated him to the point where he wouldn’t let them park the motorcycles, for a while, at the factory. But eventually he had to give in.

So everyone arrives at their motorcycles. Because what Singh’s trying to do is he wants to transform how the village works into something that is viable in the future. So he created a program where people exercise, and they raise their own food. And every morning, they have a meeting for 30 minutes to talk about the process of how they make the radios, so people can say, “Hmmm, I have a refinement in the process. We can do continuous improvement.” And so he’s teaching a management philosophy to people in the village.

And in fact, when you work at this factory, you’re not even allowed to cut a piece of wood until you’ve worked in the forest, because, as he explained to me, he says it takes a half a second with a rotary saw, to cut a piece of wood, a piece of that took 30 years to grow. And he wants everyone who cuts wood to have the experience, the intimacy with the trees, and knowing that on one hand it takes 30 years to grow mahogany, on the other hand it takes half a second to shape it. So that they really value each piece of treasure that comes from the earth, from the forest.

And he gives back. In fact, in the village– now we’re talking about a village where people are riding motor scooters, but most of the villagers didn’t even have indoor plumbing. This was the sanitation system in a typical dwelling in this village. And so they created a program where, if you worked at the factory, within a year, they would come to your home and install a toilet. So fundamental. To us, we don’t even think twice about it. But there it’s– you’re wondering about the patent, right? They wondering about this.

And this is it. This is the culture that we’re looking at. Because here’s Singh earlier, he explained to me that in order to create this, he took everything he had in the world. They sold his wife’s wedding ring, so they could buy their first computer, so they could set up this factory. And since then, they’re going somewhere with this. But this is Singh when he was a child. And the world he grew up in, as a child in that village, he told me he wants to create a better world. A world where children learn how to think sustainably. He told me of a dream where he’d have a school where just the idea of having a wooden radio, the idea of having a factory, would just be one instance of the type of thinking the children will be taught in school to think like, so that every kid in that village could come up with their own product, their own factory.

I said Singh, you’re talking about creating a design thinking elementary school. You’re talking about teaching children how to be design thinkers. And he said, “Well, you know what, David, that’s interesting. Because I guess I am.” And that’s the fourth, that’s the quadruple bottom line. Because I’m saying the other bottom line we need to respect is culture. Because I tell you, my friends, what makes us different– no matter what your religion, what makes us different from the other animals is this– when the other animals get cold they evolve to grow more hair. They have an evolutionary reaction to the situation. They adapt through evolution. But we humans, we also adapt in another way. If we’re cold, we don’t just grow more hair, which can take a million years, we design stuff. We design solutions. We design heaters, and clothing, and textiles, and all sorts. We reorganize our society.

And that’s culture. Certainly, culture is more than that. Certainly, culture is arts, and music, and drama. But at the core, that is culture. Culture is that unique human ability to design. And that is the fourth bottom line. So what I’m asking is– and the process I’m going to show you today is one that we use in our organization, that every project has to aspire to a quadruple bottom line, not just profit, not just planet, not just people, but also taking care of culture. And this is the quadruple bottom line. And imagine if we could raise a generation of children who learn that in school. Wouldn’t that kick up human civilization to the next knowledge?

You know, we’re going to have to do some remarkable things. Things are fragile, they’re also hopeful. We’re going to have to do some remarkable things in the next couple generations. Twenty years ago the idea of sustainability– 20 years from now, imagine children in Norwegian schools learning design thinking. I think that’s completely possible. And it starts with us, because we have to share what it is we do. And in order to do that, we need to start with a plan. And that’s the strategy part.

So perfect timing, we’re going to break for 20 minutes. And at 20 past 10:00, we’re going to get into the rest of the day which is going to be a talk about how do we create sustainable strategies for our design projects. Because if we don’t plan ahead, a small change at the beginning can have a huge long term impact. So I’ll see you after the break.


Norwegian Design Council
Oslo, Norway | September 2011 (49:15)

David talks strategy for RGD Ontario in Toronto


Course Description

Learn the successful and straightforward methodology that has helped hundreds of organizations get the results from their communications projects that help fulfill their missions. Participants gain hands-on experience as they learn the principles of applying strategic techniques in marrying project implementation to organizational objectives. Attend this course to learn a step-by-step system that will apply a strategic approach to planning any communications project. David’s celebrated approach addresses strategic issues and builds buy-in from everyone along the way, resulting in solutions that don’t just work right: they get the right things done.

You will become more valuable to your organization by equipping yourself with a strategic tool. The result will reduce organizational risk and personal stress, avoid hurdles, and optimize measurable results. With a strong strategic framework, you’ll get the results you deserve.

It is not enough to have great design: we need great design that gets the right things done. Including strategy in your design process will make you a more valuable designer.

David proven step-by-step approach to framing a problem identifies strategy’s critical role in results-oriented design. Audiences on three continents has learned that any project worth doing deserves to start with strategy, and when we invest in strategy we always get that time back … along with better results. In this workshop, David introduces his celebrated secrets that unleash imagination, establish control, avoid hurdles, and fully exploit opportunities … in language that will demystify the strategic process.

This course incorporates adult learning principles and activities appropriate to a variety of learning styles, and qualifies for CEUs (certified by organizations such as PPAC).

“I really enjoyed the event”

-participant, RGD Ontario Creative Business Summit, Kingston, Ontario

The Problem

Any project, no matter how well executed, can fall short of delivering highly useful results. Late, over-budget project completions are usually due to poor project management. Most often, this is because the most important step in the project has been skipped: the development of a clear, written strategic charter that everyone has bought into.

Many projects underwhelm, not because of a lack of good intentions or commitment, but due to a lack of disciplined forethought. This results too often in a sad combination of wasted resources and stressed interpersonal relationships.

What Makes This Course Unique

This course starts where every project should: not with graphic design sketches, sharp writing or whiz-bang technologies, but rather with investing the time (which always comes back to you) to choose what you want to achieve, how you can get there, and how you’ll know when you’ve succeeded.

Our course leader, David Berman, is an internationally known expert speaker, and has owned and operated several successful firms. He is considered an expert in strategy, and has provided senior communications and branding
consultancy to many of Canada’s largest federal departments and agencies.

Through a step-by-step approach, you will learn how to use proven techniques to establish control, avoid hurdles, fully exploit opportunities, and build culture that will maintain a better way of fulfilling your goals . . . all in language that will demystify the strategic communications process.

“I think that is one of the better ones you have done”

-participant, RGD Ontario Creative Business Summit, Kingston, Ontario

What You’ll Learn

You will be instructed in a straightforward and thorough approach to developing a complete project strategy. Specifically, you will learn:

  • Where strategy fits in the overall process
  •  The benefits of a strategic approach
  •  How to build time into your schedule for strategy and convince others to as well
  •  How to develop an air-tight strategic charter
  •  How to identify goals, then turn them into measurable objectives
  •  How to gain buy-in and approval
  •  How to classify and quantify the limitations you must work within
  •  How to avoid common hurdles long before you reach them

Benefits to You

By taking this course, you’ll seize the opportunity to evolve your role into the most important one for any project: the individual who ensure that the project delivers what your organization truly covets, while reducing financial and political risk. You’ll reduce your stress level too! If you can gain a handle on these skills, you will be sought after wherever you work.

“inspiring and informative”

-participant, RGD Ontario Creative Business Summit, Toronto, Ontario

Benefits to Your Organization

  • Better results by doing things well and getting them right the first time
  • More effective use of time and other resources
  • Previous unrealistic goals become within your reach
  • Supports more resilient, sustainable and durable approach to knowledge management
  • Stronger team, with higher morale, eager and rested for the next challenge
  • Evolution of workgroup culture to a more accountable framework

Course Goals

At the end of this course, you will know how to:

  • Recognize excellent strategy
  • Participate effectively in strategy meetings
  • Develop a strategy document (possibly with coaching, depending on your level of prior learning)
  • Identify the stakeholders and resources involved in a strategic challenge
  • Work with stakeholders to choose goals and identify measurable objectives
  • Better assess how feasible specific goals and timelines are
  • Manage change more effectively
  • Continuously improve your process

Who Should Attend

This course is targeted to all project officers, project managers, brand managers, marketing officers, designers, production coordinators, strategists, and financial controllers responsible for delivering on corporate, program, branch, or departmental mandates:

  • People who are responsible for the success of programs or product lines
  • People who coordinate communications initiatives
  • People who direct creative projects
  • People who manage the finances

What You Get

When David Berman Communications hosts this course*, each participant receives:

  • a complimentary, comprehensive manual (also available separately for $89 with optional 1-on-1 distance coaching)
  • complimentary meals, snacks and beverages throughout
  • a thirty-minute personal coaching tele-session within a month of the course
  • the option to attend this course again in the future, as a refresher at no additional cost
  • a money-back guarantee: if, after coaching and refresher, you don’t think you’ve got your money’s worth, we’ll refund your entire registration fee
(*If you are attending one of our courses hosted by another organization, confirm with them which of these items apply.)

About the Expert Speaker

David Berman is the principal of David Berman Communications in Ottawa. He has over 20 years of experience in graphic design and strategic communications. David brings both graphic design and information technology expertise to his work. He has been involved in the strategy or project management of numerous web projects, including strategy for the World Bank, Canada Revenue Agency, Health Canada, the National Research Council, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, Industry Canada, Statistics Canada, and Treasury Board as well as many other government, private sector and non-profit organizations. He has worked extensively in the adaptation of printed materials for electronic distribution, including Web design and plain writing and design. He is also the architect of project management software applications.

David is an internationally-celebrated speaker, having taken engagements in over 10 countries. In recent years he has also recommitted his career toward sharing his knowledge and unique talent as a designer and strategist through professional development courses for creative organizations. David is a National Professional Member of the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers (CAPS) and the Global Speakers Federation (GSF). He is the Ethics Chair of the Society of Graphic Designers of Canada, and was named a Fellow (the highest professional honour for graphic designers in Canada) in 1999. David has been featured in the Financial Post, Marketing, and Applied Arts magazines.

Prerequisites: No experience necessary

Language: English or French

Duration: 1-day overview course or 2-day in-depth course

Take this event on-site: This course is also available customized and on-site for your organization. Please contact us for details.

If you would like to be notified via e-mail of when new instances of scheduled events, subscribe to our events e-mail updates.

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Reviewed October 18, 2011


Sat Oct 13, 2012 Cardiff, Wales Cardiff Design Festival Tickets £150 full price, £75 student concessions (talk prior to workshop free to workshop delegates)
Wed May 23 – Fri May 25, 2012 Melbourne, Australia AGIdeas TBA
Tue Apr 17, 2012 Savannah, Georgia David Berman Communications $30-$350 USD
Sept 22, 2011
Oslo, Norway Norwegian Design Council SOLD OUT
Sep 29, 2010
Toronto, ON RGD Ontario CDN$125
Sep 28, 2010
Kingston, ON RGD Ontario CDN$50
Mon Dec 15, 2008 Ottawa, ON Metcalfe Realty N/A
Jun 20, 2005
SAS Radisson Hotel, Manama, Bahrain opens in a new browser windowCreative Nights Conference (International Advertising Association) BHD 95
Feb 23-26, 2004 Doha, Qatar opens in a new browser windowTasmeem Doha 2004 call

*Discount packages for non-profits, and travel subsidies available. Additional discounts available for groups over three people. If you refer at least four registrants to one of our courses, we'll give you a complimentary registration to a course of your choice. Call (613) 728-6777 for details.

All prices, offerings, and dates subject to change without notice.

To register for a course given by our own organization, register online or call (613) 728-6777..

Event Schedule (all events)

“…particularly fantastic. I can't believe more people in the design community don't take advantage of these inspiring events. Keep up the great work.”

– participant, RGD Ontario Creative Business Summit, Toronto, Ontario



For the convenience of course attendees, we provide this list of hypertext links and books cited in this course’s learning guide roughly in the order they appear in the course and learning guide:

Legislation, lawsuits, and standards

Other countries

Accessibility guidelines

Assistive technologies and techniques

Visual difficulties
Dexterity/mobility/motor difficulties


Hearing difficulties

iOS Accessibility

Android, Windows Phone Accessibility

WCAG 2.0 (including Success Criteria Level A and AA, in order)

Guideline 1.1: Text Alternatives
Guideline 1.2: Time-based Media
Guideline 1.3: Adaptable
Guideline 1.4: Distinguishable
Guideline 2.1: Keyboard Accessible
Guideline 2.2: Enough Time
Guideline 2.3: Seizures
Guideline 2.4: Navigable
Guideline 3.1: Readable
Guideline 3.2: Predictable
Guideline 3.3: Input Assistance
Guideline 4.1: Compatible, etc.

Testing tools for web and mobile

WCAG 2.1 (including the new Success Criteria Level A and AA, in order)

Document standards, techniques and testing


Instructional design software: Adobe Captivate

Instructional design software: Articulate Storyline

Instructional design software: other

Accessible virtual classroom platforms

Introduction to Online Learning and Accessibility

Accessible content management

White papers

Other accessibility links


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