Better Living Challenge


BLC2 showcases the value of Design-Led approach

Sep 08, 2017

There has been a notable increase in an appetite for a ‘Design-Led approach’ to solve problems and create innovative processes and projects locally. Organisations in both the public and private sector are increasingly turning to design thinking and similar methodologies to create business models, products, services and solutions to improve competitiveness, efficiency and sustainability, and to remain innovative.

The Western Cape Design Strategy (WCDS) states that design is not limited to the aesthetics of product design and development of new functional products, but that it also includes the design of services, processes, systems and solutions to pertinent social and developmental issues. As implementing agents of the WCDS, the Craft + Design Institute (CDI) drives projects to support the merits of a design-led approach.

One such project is the Better Living Challenge (BLC). As a flagship project of the WCDS, it highlights how good design can improve lives, and that it has the potential to catalyse the development of innovative home improvement products, services and solutions that improve the lives of our communities, and ultimately contribute to the competitiveness of the Western Cape.

WCDS DiagramThe CDI created a framework to categorise design disciplines into the five most prevalent types of design in the Western Cape economy.
Credit: WCDS, page 9

What is a Design-Led approach?

The CDI uses ‘Design-Led approach’ as a catch-all phrase to describe the rational, social, emotional and physical activities linked to the act of designing. This approach combines conventional creative design skills that have emerged from graphic or product-focussed design, combined with cross-disciplinary methods such as ethnography, stakeholder analysis and customer journeys. It encompasses general strategies, processes and perspectives as well as specific methods, tools and techniques like ‘design thinking’, ‘service design’, ‘social design’ or ‘creative thinking’. The term Design-Led enables us to include projects that use similar ingredients in a user-centric process where needs, goals and behaviours of the users drive the direction of the process to deliver the most appropriate outcomes in different configurations.

The value of a Design-Led approach

Numerous papers and articles have been penned globally on the value of design or a Design-Led approach. When discussing value in the business world, it refers to specific benefits generated by a feature. Accordingly, the following benefits have emerged in the Design-Led projects undertaken by the CDI, and by stakeholders that have been involved in these projects specific to the South African context:

  • Empowerment and improved sense of agency: participants in projects feel enabled to challenge existing assumptions, think radically, challenge preconceptions and the status quo. It promotes a shift towards feeling comfortable with complexity, and stimulates curiosity to navigate the unknown. Projects support the ethos of a participative design process that  enables everyone to have a voice in the process.
  • Trust-building and development of a shared understanding: projects enable trust to be built, support efforts towards understanding the context, and promote shared understanding between designers and users.
  • Enhanced ‘sense making’, building connections and navigation of process: the Design Council’s  Double Diamond process (which is divided into four distinct phases – discover, define, develop and deliver – and is presented as a simple ‘double diamond’ visual map of the design process), supports convergent and divergent thinking. The visualisation tools help to clarify thinking, making sense of complexity and connecting the seemingly unconnected.
  • Tangible outputs: the process of distilling conversations, documents and activities into new artefacts (such as summary documents, drawings, charts, videos or objects) transforms complex information, systems and concepts into digestible formats for different user groups.

Crafting artefacts, in a form appropriate to both the content and the users, helps make ideas concrete and easier to interrogate, while also encouraging participation and creative thinking.

  • Cross-disciplinary collaboration and solution finding: the use of the Design-Led tools and methods support problem analysis and solution finding. Stakeholders with different, but complementary, skills work together for mutual gain.
  • Iteration: projects allow for rapid prototyping to share and test ideas, reflection as part of an iterative process, as well as testing, refining and evaluating of ideas. Feedback loops enable corrections, clarifications and adjustments in a non-judgemental and non-defensive way.
  • Enjoyment factor: making the design process an enjoyable experience enables those involved to move more easily into a co-creative frame of mind, leading to creative and enjoyable outcomes.

BLC 2 - Toolkit Challenge Workshop 64Joint identification of issues from a wide range of stakeholders will result in better collaborations towards finding solutions.

The Better Living Challenge

An important CDI project where a Design-Led approach is adding value and impact is the Better Living Challenge (BLC). The CDI considered the fact that over 850 000 people live in informal structures in the Western Cape. Such self-built structures are particularly vulnerable to fires, flooding and other devastating events. There is a clear challenge to society to enable, support and help people to incrementally upgrade their homes to become safer and more comfortable.

The BLC was conceived as a response to that challenge. It is  a five-year programme comprising a series of challenges to surface design innovations that could improve living conditions within low-income communities. It has been designed as a problem-solving process with the end user at the centre. It seeks to raise awareness, share knowledge, and incubate ideas and processes.

The first phase: a product design challenge (BLC1)

The BLC was launched in 2014 with a focus on home improvement products. Manufacturers, designers, inventors and entrepreneurs were challenged to design innovations that could meet the needs of people living in informal homes in low-income areas.

Over 130 ideas were submitted in three categories: the connected home; the comfortable home; and the structural home. Members of the public voted on shortlisted finalists, and a panel of expert judges identified winners and runners-up in each category. The winners were provided with funding and a valuable support package to help develop their products for mass production and distribution.

BLC 2 - Toolkit Challenge Workshop 4Lisa Parkes, Programme Manager: Design Human Capital Development of the CDI, shares a moment with workshop participants. 

The second phase: a user-driven process (BLC2)

During 2016, working directly with the community and various stakeholders, researchers conducted an in-depth analysis to identify the primary needs and challenges of upgrading informal structures. This research sparked the evolution of the BLC into its current, second phase, known as BLC2.

Throughout 2017 until 2019, people from diverse disciplines will come together to co-create user-centred solutions and find new ways of tackling tough problems. The BLC2 process will explore ways to embrace informality and support incremental home upgrades. It revolves around three priority areas related to upgrading informal housing: materials; access to finance; and skills development.

Live incubated projects, toolkits, product showcases, real case studies and other outputs will emerge throughout the process. This body of knowledge will be made widely available to anyone involved in the process of upgrading informal housing.

Innovation using Design-Led processes and thinking methodologies is a key part of how the CDI helps people to develop creative solutions for the challenges of their day-to-day lives. Through a user-driven approach focusing on problem-solving and solution-finding for systemic change, the CDI is pioneering Design-Led processes locally to the benefit of communities.