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Design Thinking unConference to bring no-holds-barred thinking process to Emily Carr University of Art + Design

Creative problem-solvers and innovators will be gathering at the Design Thinking unConference (DTUC) on August 19-20 at the Emily Carr University of Art and Design on Granville Island.

Flickr photo courtesy of Randy Kosek

 “It is not about the world of design, it is about the design of the world.” 

Bruce Mau

Are you a designer? If you were a teacher or office assistant, you might shake your head and laugh, no. But if you have ever created a unique system for grading homework, or made an emergency doorstop out of a chopped eraser, you have probably engaged in some design thinking. Creative problem-solvers and innovators will be gathering at the Design Thinking unConference (DTUC) on August 19-20 at the Emily Carr University of Art and Design on Granville Island. 

“Design Thinking” is the creative, no-holds-barred thinking process used by designers when solving a challenge, according to a definition by The Economist. The new idea in this field is that methods and approaches taken by designers are more widely applicable, and can be used by people other than designers. 

The unconference is expected to draw not only design industry professionals and members of the over 7,000-member strong Linkedin group on Design Thinking, but also people from diverse fields including health, business, education and urban planning.

Why design thinking?

The Design Thinking unConference was conceived by Vancouverite Steven Forth, CEO of LeveragePoint Innovations in Cambridge, Massachussetts. A former Japanese-language translator who currently works on software solutions on value-based pricing out of Vancouver, Forth embodies the multi-disciplinary, global-scale thinking that characterizes many people in the design community.  

“This specific unconference is just one small act in my long-term aspiration to make Vancouver a much more design-centric city,” Forth said. “I want design to be encoded into the way people interact with each other, how they make decisions, and what kind of companies they create.”

 “Everyone is a bit of a designer,” he added. Online technologies and manufacturing have evolved to allow people to have more input into the way things are designed and manufactured on a smaller scale closer to home. Already, people are in the habit of designing and customizing their own T-shirts, personal websites and consumer products. The shift from passive consumer to active participant in design can have an enormous impact when more people start to take an active interest in designing their city, their political institutions and economy.

“The more we're able to critically think about design, the more effective we're going to be as citizens,” he said.

Photo sourced from Change by Design

The unConference

The format of the “unconference” itself is a prime example of how design thinking was used to change the traditional “conference” into a more interactive format that emphasizes issues over the celebrity status of speakers. 

At the Design Thinking unConference event, participants can “pitch” discussion sessions, verbally presenting their ideas, then having these proposals mounted on a wall grid, arranged in time slots, where people can choose to join whatever sessions pique their interest throughout the day.

“An unconference is much better for people attending,” said Forth. “I’ve heard it said many times by people who had a real unconference experience, that they can never sit in a dark room, waiting for the Q&A period, listening to a PowerPoint presenter drone on and on… I don't want to go to a conference and listen to some guy speak to me. But I do like to go to places where new ideas come out of conversations.”

According to the schedule, Friday will kick off with a design thinker's tour of Vancouver, led by Trevor Boddy, a local design thinker and prominent architecture critic (his riveting speech on the historical forces that have shaped Vancouver and its current influence on other cities, Vancouverism and its discontents, can be accessed here ). 

The unConference starts in the afternoon with a series of round table discussions to explore core issues of design thinking, led by active Design Thinking LinkedIn group members and drawing upon some of the most active online group discussions. A full-day “pure” unconference experience is planned for Saturday.

It’s through these discussion sessions, Forth said, that unconference participants can exchange ideas with Vancouver’s finest design thinkers. “The really successful sessions at unconferences are the ones that turn into conversations." He hopes that a lot of city planners will turn up for the event so that they can put current city design issues up for discussion.

The unconference would be an excellent way to highlight big design problems in Vancouver such as homelessness and increasing density of the downtown core, and everyone is invited to propose their own discussion topic at the events, he said.

Design Thinking and solving social problems on the DTES

So who uses design thinking? Why should people concern themselves with it?

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