Transformation Design

FH JOANNEUM Master Program Industrial Design/Eco-innovative Design

by FH JOANNEUM Master Program Industrial Design/Eco-innovative Design

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Posted by Ursula A on 02-03-2018 - Last updated on 05-04-2018

This challenge is connected to the Beyond Change conference workshop on Design Transformation – Transformation Design taking place March 8th 2018 in Basel, CH. ... We are searching for your best ideas and suggestions on how Design and Designers can support and generate the urgently needed Change and Transformation towards Sustainable Production and Consumption Systems and more sustainable Life Styles. Sustainable means: good for the planet, good for the people and creating (economic) value for everybody involved.

Design Transformation – Transformation Design

Design, in the way it is applied today, primarily serves one objective – to increase competitiveness, turnover and profit of a company. And only if it supports that objective, then design has also the freedom to do good – to the user and to society, and potentially even to the environment on top of that. But only then.

Sure, there are and have been plenty of designs and initiatives already, that try to promote and do design the other way round, but realistically their impacts are peanuts in the bigger scheme of our capitalistic system. It is also true that design integrates sustainable criteria already for quite some time, and has created already a noticeable contribution for the better. But then again, this approach mostly tries to reduce the negative impact that our materialistic lifestyle has on our eco- and social systems. And sadly, we all know, that this is by far not enough to cope with the damages caused by the mainstream industrialized way of living. Instead of trying to fix the leakages of a rotten roof, we should tear it down and build a new sustainable one.

Such a radical change will only be possible, if we can convince people – a lot of people, that there is a better way. What people need is a very tangible vision, how such a better, a more sustainable way could look like – with very convincing arguments, why this should be the better way, and even more convincing arguments, why they should dare to leave their accustomed way of living. And arguments are not enough, according to the theory of social learning, it needs (a) Awareness, (b) Motivation, (c) Opportunities to Change, (d) Rewards. Design and Designers can play many roles to support such a development of a vision and the steps to changing behaviour (Stebbing/Tischner 2015).

We propose to run a workshop (half a day) where these ways for design and designers to support change and transformation towards a true just and sustainable society are presented to, discussed, and developed further by the participants.

The approaches developed and applied so far include:

  • The theory about wicked problems and how they can be tackled (Rittel/Webber 1973)
  • Participative, co-design approaches as already proposed by Viktor Papanek (Papanek 1971)
  • The latest Open Innovation, Crowd-sourcing, Crowd Funding and Open Source Movements as implemented e.g. by the open innovation platform (see also Tischner/ Beste 2017)
  • The A2D2C Model developed by Stebbing and Tischner (2015)
  • The transformation design approaches as developed by Lutz Kucher in the frame of his seminar at the FH JOANNEUM Master Eco-innovative Design. (See also Welzer/ Sommer 2014 and Jonas/Zerwas/Anshelm 2015)

In addition, the role of design research and design education will be discussed specifically. The underlying question shall be, how and what type of design research and how and what type of design education can support the changes we are needing urgently.

In the workshop the open innovation for Sustainability platform can be used to document the process and the results and to discuss the outcomes further with a larger international audience after the workshop.

Some of the underlying assumptions and open questions are:

  • This kind of transformation can ONLY be done by collaboration (not necessarily competition). No one actor can do that alone.
  • There will never be ONE vision on a sustainable future but the visions need to be as diverse as the cultures are.
  • Designers need to adopt a different revenue model to be able to go for radical changes, as very often the conventional clients are trapped in their (capitalistic) business frameworks. That’s why all the crowd and sharing based systems are highly interesting.
  • Digitalisation, Automization, Generative Manufacturing, Social Media, Internet etc. are enablers but are not per se leading the way towards Sustainability. Methods and strategies still need to be developed how these approaches can be used in the best way to support transformation towards sustainable production and consumption systems.
  • Very often poorer communities and so called developing countries have much lower environmental footprints than industrialized countries. How can we create mutual understanding and learning, and what are “indigenous knowledge” and the “sustainability principles” that western cultures can learn from “the South” and that “the South” needs to conserve, rather than following the very unsustainable path of “the North”. How can that knowledge be harvested and cultivated, as it is in danger of getting lost?
  • There are already quite a few scenario/ backcasting and future workshop methods to create positive visions of the future, but if designers are engaging more in the envisioning process, new and maybe more engaging and more fun approaches can be created that also use modern IC technology.
  • What are the benefits of the crowd sourcing and open innovation platforms that are already out there focussing on sustainability (innonatives, open ideo, enviu etc.) and what is needed to make the approaches more mainstream?



  • Chesbrough, H. W., West, J. and Vanhaverbeke, W. (2006). Open Innovation. Researching a New Paradigm. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
  • Jonas,W./ Zerwas, S. and K. von Anshelm (2015): Transformation Design - Perspectives on a new Design Attitude, , Birkhäuser
  • Papanek, V. (1971) Design for the Real World, New York, Pantheon Books.
  • Rittel, H.W.J. & Webber, M.M. (1973) Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning, Policy Sciences, vol 4, 155-169 (accessed at:
  • Stebbing, P, Tischner, U (Hrsg.) (2015): Changing Paradigms: Designing for a Sustainable Future, Aalto University, download from
  • Tischner, U./ Beste, L. (2017): State of the Art of Open Innovation and Design for Sustainability, in: Sustainability Through Innovation in Product Life Cycle Design, Matsumoto, M., Masui, K., Fukushige, S., Kondoh, S. (Eds.), Springer Publishing, 2017
  • Tischner, U (2008): Chapter 1: Introduction and Chapter 9. Design for (social) sustainability and radical change, In: System Innovation for Sustainability 1: Perspectives on Radical Changes to Sustainable Consumption and Production, Tukker et al. (Ed.). Greenleaf Pub., Sheffield
  • Welzer H. and B. Sommer (2014): Transformationsdesign - Wege in eine zukunftsfähige Moderne, , oekom pub., Frankfurt