Not a pessimistic designer, nor a cynical designer – a critical designer looks at the past, to rethink the present and reimagine a brighter future.

Futurist Alvin Toffler once said “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” Living in a time of enormous change, where existing paradigms are continually being torn down, how does one stay ahead of the game when the principles we’ve been taught are so regularly being challenged?

How critical design could save your organisation

Buckminster Fuller said that “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete”. Armed with the tools to enact radical innovation, critical designers go about the task of rethinking business models.

A study from the John M. Olin School of Business at Washington University estimates that 40 percent of today’s F500 companies on the S&P 500 will no longer exist in 10 years. The need to quickly pivot and intercept the future is more important than ever.

Utilise predictive design research

Adopting a critical, future thinking approach will give you a strategic advantage.

The exercise of future casting explores the impact that possible future scenarios will have on your organisation. Analysing these futures through a variety of lenses allows you to begin to understand how a combination of trends and disruptions may impact your organisation in the years to come. Combining abstract and analytical thought processes provides a window into the future as you are able to understand the connections between entities and start to see a system as more than just the sum of its parts.

Engaging your knowledge portfolio

When practising critical design, three forms of knowledge are brought to the table: industry specific knowledge, strategic knowledge and tacit knowledge. The dynamic interplay between these forms allows for original solutions to develop as latent potential is unearthed.

Assimilating these three knowledge groups can be done through active collaboration between individuals to ensure the best result.

Take Apple for example. Steve Wozniak brought industry specific knowledge, Mike Markkula brought a wealth of business expertise and Steve Jobs brought the tacit knowledge that good design has to be baked into the development of both the user interface and the physical design of all Apple products. Leveraging each other’s expertise was the key ingredient in Apple’s early success.

Mapping the terrain

Critical design is essential in understanding the broader economic landscape and will reveal future areas of growth. Liberating previously siloed knowledge creates new and unique insights revealing a layered profile of both organisation and individual that exposes issues and proposes future solutions.

So, if you are concerned about some kids in a garage disrupting your industry, get proactive and consider what you can do now to protect yourself in the future.