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The New Ecology of Things

(Illustration by Charley Harper)

Design thinking is a term — almost a mantra — that has resurfaced a lot lately. It has been especially poignant during this time of financial hardship, during which a number of traditional or conventional processes have been debunked and are being rethought altogether (let’s use it in a sentence: "Mr. Brown thinks that the publishing world could benefit from design thinking.") But others believe that design thinking has no basis unless it recognizes that the process is rooted in design-doing.

Philip van Allen is an interactive designer and technologist, who is a professor in the Graduate Media Design Program at Art Center College of Design, and the director of the New Ecology of Things Lab. His goal is to bring the idea of innovation back to something tangible.

Van Allen suggests that innovation not only means meeting customer needs by cultivating ideas, but he translates the activity of innovating to actually inventing things and new medias. Van Allen also stresses that holding an actual tangible object inspires and enables designers to “re-think the whole communication process.”

In fact, van Allen points out that we can all be producers (definitely in the case of Web 2.0 and moving beyond the one dimentional consumer identity) who can actually customize our own physical objects and spaces of cultural relevance.