Changing How We Think About Design: Knowledge of Design Week 2020

Reimagining design at Knowledge of Design Week 2020

Discussing all things design, Knowledge of Design Week launched its first virtual edition live in Hong Kong on Wednesday, August 26. The conference continued through August 29, and featured a mix of free virtual sessions and paid remote workshops.

Organized by the Hong Kong Design Centre and sponsored by the Hong Kong government’s Create Hong Kong office, Knowledge of Design Week discussed trends of the day across the world of design.

“With Knowledge of Design Week, we are committed to building a global community of people who aspire to lead change through user-driven design and innovation,” Chairman of HKDC Eric Yim, JP, said in his opening address.

“To reimagine a better society and future, we need to interweave technology with good design, design based on human and user needs,” he also said.

The conference discussed themes spanning artificial intelligence, big data, health, future of work, and more from a design perspective, highlighting how the field has changed because of emerging technologies and global developments that have transformed the way we live.

Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development of the Hong Kong government, Honorable Edward Yau, GBS, JP, was the chief guest at the event.

“Indeed, while the COVID-19 pandemic is raging and turning the world upside down, it is more imperative than ever to continue the promotion of human-centric design, to help businesses and societies to reset, rethink, and reinvent,” he said in his welcome address.

Under the theme of ‘Designing Digital Futures for the New Normal’, Knowledge of Design Week featured over 40 local and international speakers “to share crucial insights on how we can navigate the so called new normal, or as some put it, the new abnormal,” he added.

Here are some highlights from Knowledge of Design Week 2020.

Rethinking Digital Transformation: The Role of Design

Moderated by Executive Principal, Asia, at Hong Kong-based Eight Inc. Chris Dobson, the session featured design experts Clive Grinyer, David Chow, and Selena Xu.

Technology has transformed how design is now thought of, Grinyer noted, saying that “technology has not always been that good at solving our problems, but very good at being clever.” Grinyer is a design consultant and Head of Service Design at U.K.’s Royal College of Art.

He added that designers now work with data, such as with digital passports or contactless payments, rather than with tangible materials as before.

He also discussed how design decisions are integrated at every level of business, such as to reduce risk, improve safety, and simplify complexity. Design has essentially become a need-to-have in a high-tech world, and subsequently, the idea of art and business as separate entities needs to be erased, he noted.

With data-driven digital experiences becoming a huge opportunity for contemporary design, Grinyer added that design professionals now have a responsibility to create designs that are “human centered, inclusive, desirable, safe and valuable to all,” a thought echoed by both Chow and Xu.

Chow, IBM General Manager and Partner, Global Business Services Hong Kong, noted that as tech has evolved, companies have migrated innovative and critical workloads to the cloud, creating a new dimension for business reinvention.

With this shift, innovation has now become enterprise-driven rather than consumer driven, and digital and AI trends have shifted from experimentation to scaling, he said.

Cognitive enterprises today need to integrate intelligent workflows, trusted data, and emerging technologies into the experiences and agility of the organization, while also treating data as insight in the problem-solving process, instead of seeing it as the answer itself, he noted.

He added that while this is a complex process, companies must also pay attention to regulatory requirements in the course of their transformation.

Xu, Service Design Director at EY wavespace in Hong Kong, noted that a main mistake designers often make is to focus on the problem too much and already have a pre-selected solution, versus relying on the purpose of design­–to think outside of these perspectives and create something truly innovative.

She added that design challenges today are largely connected to screens and digital experiences. Designers today are competing for screen visibility and screen time, with users comparing providers based on intuitiveness, efficiency and overall experience.

In a digital environment in flux, businesses need to think about their future goals and reverse engineer the process to understand what they need to be doing today, Xu noted.

Ghost Trends 2020: Making Sense of an Elusive World

Co-founder and Managing Partner of U.S.-based scenarioDNA Tim Stock was in conversation with moderator Jaclyn Tsui, Managing Partner at Altitude Labs in Hong Kong, about how COVID-19 changed ghost trends across the world.

“It’s a great point for everyone to be contemplative on the work we were doing before this crisis hit, and what the purpose of our design will be going forward,” Stock noted. “It’s really a great opportunity to redirect what we do as designers.”

Stock noted that several trends have emerged in ghost economies upon culture mapping the change that has taken place due to COVID-19, such as with ghost apartments, properties that are meant to be rented out but are lying empty.

COVID-19 has resulted in a surge in such ghost apartments, with real-estate developments and hotel inventories sitting empty.

A second trend has been in jobs, with the rise of the gig economy, part of the ghost jobs economy. COVID-19 has put both emphasis and stress on the gig economy, but issues such as worker protection remain unaddressed.

Another ghost trend that has emerged is in ghost virtual realities. Stock notes that while the digital economy and virtual technologies have received a boost, COVID-19 has also shed light on the loneliness and social disconnection that virtuality can result in.

Stock also commented on the rise of telehealth, and its implications on how data and information is now tracked and utilized, noting that personal and network responsibilities of this data economy has ‘abstract consequences’.

Further, Stock also discussed ghost kitchens, and how restaurants are much more networked now than before. COVID-19 froze the interest in food innovation, Stock noted, and restaurants that are going out of business are now converting to ghost kitchens to adapt.

“A ghost kitchen would be about scale, and now, in the midst of a pandemic, we see much more about the idea of staying very, very adaptable,” he said.

Moreover, Stock pointed out the rise of ‘humanless faces’ such as cashier-less retail. While this was about efficiency prior to the pandemic, it is now seen as a healthier and more trustworthy system.

However, Stock noted that erasing humans from design must be seen with skepticism. It’s not good enough to remove people, he says, but to redirect the human qualities of design into other avenues. In other words, it is important to build intelligence into these experiences to match human quality.

Finally, he noted that manufacturing needs to become a lot more adaptable, in terms of material technology, responsible manufacturing, and on-demand micro-factories, going forward.

The Work Experiment’: Leading Future Workforce

Dean of School of Design at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University Dr Kun-Pyo Lee, Eight Inc. Founder & CEO Tim Kobe, and Herman Miller Hong Kong Workplace Consultant Tatiana Gomez were in conversation with moderator Dwayne Serjeant, Executive Director, Experience Design, at EY Hong Kong, on the future of work.

With the tectonic shift that has taken place this year in terms of work, the way the world works has been redesigned. The speakers discussed the impact this has created on the workforce.

Kobe noted that it is important to discuss change, which is accelerating at a rate that is outstripping the ability to respond to it. This calls for solving for a dynamic stability where erstwhile fundamental constants before are now changing, resulting in an added focus on designing platforms for ‘living’, instead of focusing only on the ‘buildings’ dimension.

Specifically, Kobe noted that there’s a great opportunity to revisit the way urban planning is approached. There is a need for diversity in zoning, he noted, in terms of designing livable spaces that can prove more significant to people’s lives, rather than plain plug-and-play spaces for work.

People’s expectations at the workspace, Gomez noted, is not just getting the job done, but also interacting socially and a sense of belonging, which impacts their creative and innovation process.

Subsequently, offices are not going away but are going to change in terms of what they look like and how they are purposed, to accommodate the hybrid work model (a mix of on-premises and remote work).

Gomez also highlighted mental health during the discussion, which has been affected on different fronts during COVID-19. The pandemic has provided an opportunity to rethink what wellness, mental health and wellbeing mean, and how the ergonomics at the workplace can be designed in this respect.

Further, Kun-Pyo also noted that a key question educators have had to contend with is connecting emotionally with students without the physical space of educational institutions. While this is challenge, a huge advantage that current students enjoy is that they were born into the digital world, helping them adapt quickly to virtuality.

This gives students greater ownership and allows themselves to be more forthcoming with their approach to education. Further, it situates education as process-oriented, rather than outcome-oriented as in classroom sessions.

Participants at Knowledge of Design Week had free access to online networking, and all had the option of tuning in to the sessions in English, Cantonese and Putonghua.

The simultaneous translation posed a challenge to the smooth running of the event – using it can often lose the nuance of communicating in a specific language. Further, the event had to contend with challenges of executing an event during COVID-19, such as platform glitches or masks interfering with clarity of the audio.

However, despite these hindrances, Knowledge of Design Week was able to execute a conference that dove deeply into diverse design-related topics, and churned remarkable cross-sectoral insights to give the audience a clear and essential picture of how the world of design has transformed.

As Mr Yau noted in his speech, “These KODW 2020 topics are highly pertinent to our future even before COVID-19. But with what has been going on in the past few months, their importance and urgency have become more critical now than ever.”

Header image courtesy of Knowledge of Design Week 2020


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Sharon Lewis
Sharon is a Staff Writer at Jumpstart


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