Making Things Happen

June 30, 2011

Presentation Summary

In a presentation to the 3rd International Design PhD Conference in Lancaster, Kevin Roberts shares five ideas designed to make the world a better place for everyone.

Better World

I’m a design nut, having started out in fashion design with the legendary Mary Quant.

Fashion to urban, interior to graphic, physical to virtual, design is the great transformer – traveling across disciplines, ripping and mashing them – and changing people’s worlds as it goes.

Demand for design solutions has never been higher and its importance to the world has never been greater. It’s a force of the future, because today it’s a VUCA world.

Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous.

How can 7 billion people all have shelter, secure food, stay healthy, get along, feel great, be happy, pay for it all – and fight off attacks from Mars?

Most of the answers will involve design, pulsed by a curious mind – aka research. It will be the designers – their dreams on a deadline – who inspire human progress.

The challenge for designers is to leap from getting things done to making things happen, to design a VUCA space that is:

Vibrant, Unreal, Crazy and Astounding.

Here are 5 Ideas to frame your discussions, designed to make the world a better place for everyone.

#1 Make it Emotional

‘Design’ has become a generic term, a catchall for creative expression, covering everything from futuristic transparent Airbuses to prosthetic testicles for neutered cats and dogs.

Great design starts with the answer, and works back. And the answer is people, knowing your audience backwards. Sensing and elevating them.

Reject the classical mantra of “Form follows function” for “Form follows emotion”. Here’s why.

Design is about bringing emotional meaning to the drawing board, and when we do this we activate things, we move perceptions, we spark energy – and stuff happens. In our shopper marketing discipline we call this “shelf back thinking.”

Snøhetta from Norway talk about the “architecture of engagement,” which puts a structure’s social experience on a par with its form, thinking how the user enters, passes through, and lives in a building. To prove their point, soon after Snøhetta’s Oslo Opera House opened a couple were spotted having sex on the roof.

If people don’t feel the design in the moment, you risk becoming a commodity, whether you’re context is cultural, social or commercial. John Bargh, NYU psychologist, says that everything is evaluated as good or bad within a quarter of a second.

Donald Calne boils it down: “Reason leads to conclusions; emotion leads to action.” We’re in the action business.

#2 Make it Beautiful

All great design is born from the same heart. It feels amazing, and beauty is central, because our DNA is intuitively attracted to things beautiful.

Few can create a beautiful idea, but most can appreciate it. People are visual, remembering 20% of what they read and 80% of what they see and do.

Design thinks differently, and the best design supports visual thinking through simplicity, certainty and beauty. More iPhone, less Nokia 7600 (which was designed in the shape of a pig’s ear – recently named ugliest mobile phone of modern times on Yahoo).

Italian Michelin star chef Carlo Cracco on his Transparent Salad, said: “That crazy idea started essentially from a visual point of view. I am not a designer, I am just a cook. When you imagine a dish, you picture it complete in your head – you feel the consistency of the raw materials, you see the colors, you taste it in your mind, you lay all the elements down on the plate according to a vision.”

Beautiful design sets dangerous ideas on collision paths to create entire new orders.

  • For cities, think the vibrancy of Istanbul over picture postcards like Zurich.
  • Fabrica, Benetton’s applied creative lab, would blur the boundaries of culture, language and media to churn raw creative beauty.
  • More than half of P&G’s products involve major collaboration with outside partners. Connect & Develop.

We live in the Age of the Idea. Ideas are the currency of the future, and when in the hands of designers all things are possible.

Great ideas often reframe. P&G’s Tide detergent is now in the Dry Cleaning business. Voltaren reframed from pain relief to the Joy of Movement.

Great ideas can surprise with the obvious.

#3 Make it Revelatory

Saatchi & Saatchi marries insight generation to visual creation to bring ideas to life. Great ideas begin with great insights – an open understanding of how someone experiences the world.

Most research suffers because most insights are not insightful!

Information – Knowledge – Insight – Foresight
Information – Knowledge – REVELATION – Foresight

To develop a pen that could write in space, NASA spent millions on advanced technology. The Russians used a pencil.

To design smarter farther, we need to Xplore truth:

  • Toyota: GENCHI GENBUTSU (Seeing things firsthand, literally “go and see”). Chief engineer for the 2004 Sierra minivan had never designed for the North American market, so drove all 50 states and every province of Canada and Mexico. His insights redesigned the popular minivan.
  • Saatchi & Saatchi: goes physically and flies virtually into people’s inner lives.

#4 Make it Irresistible

Love is the irrefutable design, because instead of putting your audience at the heart of the design, you put the design at the heart of the audience. This is priceless.

  • Brands are owned by establishments, institutions, corporations and stakeholders. Lovemarks are owned by the people who love them.
  • Brands are built on Respect. Lovemarks are created out of Respect and Love.

Love Respect Axis Lovemarks


  • Low Love, Low Respect – US airlines to Comic Sans to faulty reactors
  • High Love, Low Respect – Flip video to six sigma to… the 1980s
  • High Respect, Low Love – Microsoft Windows, champion of “er” words.
  • High Love High Respect – Helvetica to Apple.
  • Brands build Loyalty for a Reason. Lovemarks inspire Loyalty Beyond Reason.
  • Great Brands were Irreplaceable. Lovemarks are Irresistible. Is your design Irreplaceable? Or Irresistible?

To create Lovemarks, infuse design with mystery, sensuality and intimacy, the glue of all design.

Mystery is the unknown, the unexpected and the unbelievable, myths and icons, dreams and stories.

It’s what we don’t know that matters most, twisting the familiar or revealing the unfamiliar.

Example: the unexpected dashes of color in buildings of (2011 Pritzker winner) Portuguese architect Eduardo Souto de Moura.

Sensuality Touch / Scent / Vision / Sound / Taste. The five senses are the portals to our emotions, the home range of design.

Intimacy is empathy, commitment, passion. The small touch, the perfect gesture.

#5 Make it Connective

Design is entering a narrative ever less linear, and ever more immersive, participatory and visual.

Half the world is under 25, and with their dancing digital digits, ‘GenV’ can’t tell any story without pictures. It’s the same in the C-Suite! People want to be part of the design – and they have the tech and tools, and even the talent, to lend a happy hand.

It’s fueled by the Age of Now where we’re always-on, but more than that, living in the moment, a place more exciting than the regrets of yesterday and fears of tomorrow. 70% of our happiness is in the Now.

The switch in design is from being practice-inspired to being purpose-inspired, bringing each audience into the wireframe to work and play.

The designer question is what do I stand for? Align that with the audience question: “How will you improve my life?” The answer delivers priceless value and moves lives forward.

This runs social to commercial, from a $300 House design competition to help the world’s homeless, to Procter & Gamble reframing retail through design, emotion and navigation to inspire customers.

The job is to connect with what people care about AND with what they want to do.

Design for 3Qs:

  1. Do people want to experience it again?
  2. Do people want to share it?
  3. Do people want to improve it?

To sum up, make design emotional, beautiful, revelatory, irresistible, and connective…to make things happen.

Steve Jobs said, “Real Artists Ship”.

Design doesn’t count if it stays on the drawing board, on the screen or in the footnotes of a thesis.

Design counts when we make the world a better place for everyone, together.

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