June 11, 2019

PG #35: Buzzwords Vs Reality

Two of our primary goals at Paper Giant are to build communities and start conversations.

This week marks a year since we moved into our current studio space in Melbourne’s CBD – a beautiful, spacious and light-filled room, which we’ve filled with modular furniture and whiteboards, and which we’ve tried to make feel and behave like a public library. Almost everything is on wheels, and we’re pleased with the way the space can shift and respond to the demands of project work as well as for public events.

At the time of our move, the space was much bigger than we needed. We committed to the lease because we knew it would become a key part of the infrastructure to achieve our longer-term goals. Over the last twelve months we’ve hosted a huge number and variety of events, both for and outside of the design community in Melbourne. This effort culminated in a massive May, during which we hosted four events.

Our ‘Diversity in the Innovation Ecosystem’ event for Melbourne Knowledge Week is the one we’re most proud of. We wanted to bring people together to talk about different forms of diversity and inclusion, and promote frank discussions about how it does or doesn’t work in practice, and I think we were successful. (Read a write-up of the event.)

In service of our goals though, it’s important that we don’t expect everyone to come to us. To that end, I’ll be heading to London at the end of June to run a workshop on Designing (and Surviving) for the End of Life at GOOD19, after which i'll be connecting with old and new design research colleagues at User Research London.

Right before then, we’ll be running our Design Research for Product and Service Innovation training in Melbourne. We’re thrilled to announce that this is sold out, but if you’re interested in getting better at collecting and working with qualitative data, details on the waitlist are below.

In the meantime, we hope that the spaces you make, are part of, and visit are rewarding, supportive and fun. We know that ours is. Make sure you drop by sometime.

— Chris Marmo & the PG Team

Read the rest of Issue #35 here.

May 28, 2019

PG #34 – One foot in front of the other

I’m writing this days after the UN reports that 1 million species are at risk of extinction, and that CO2 levels at the Mauna Loa observatory have reached 415ppm for the first time in history. I’m also writing this hours after the Australian public has voted in a federal election, and our re-elected prime minister is a man who once waved a lump of coal around in parliament with the joy of a schoolyard bully.

As I write this, it seems we face another three years of cruelty towards people living in poverty, another three years of dismantling our social security system, another three years of pandering to white nationalists and racists, another three years of regression and inaction on climate, and another three years of cynical economic models that ignore the societal costs of inaction on all these issues.

But however we might feel about this particular election outcome, the challenges we face today are the same that we faced yesterday.

It seems to me the only solution to this crisis is transformative change – to overhaul the global economy to prioritise wellbeing and environmental sustainability rather than the pursuit of profit. We can no longer support a business-as-usual that perpetuates inequality and injustice. We can no longer support a business-as-usual that leads to ecological degradation and global warming. We must fight even harder than before for fairness, equity and sustainability.

And as I write this, I don’t yet have a clear way through this mess, other than to acknowledge that as designers we have agency, and we need to work together, to choose how to put that agency to use.

 — Reuben Stanton, Co-Founder and Design Director

Read the rest of Issue #34 here.

May 14, 2019

PG #33 – The ‘dark matter’ of design

Artistic image of dark matter, showing three abstract coloured circles (red, yellow and blue) on a black background
Image by Andrew Watson

The first time I heard the term ‘dark matter’ in relation to design was when Dan Hill used it in his excellent book Dark Matter and Trojan Horses. This was 2014, before ‘strategic design’ was something people talked about, and before Paper Giant got started. You could almost say the concept of ‘dark matter’ is why Paper Giant got started.

In astrophysics, dark matter refers to all the stuff that we know exists even though we don’t know what it might be. We have no way to observe it, but it literally holds the fabric of the universe together. In design, ‘dark matter’ is the underlying ideological, cultural, structural and systemic ‘stuff’ that shapes and controls how organisations work, how decisions get made, and what changes are considered possible. It’s the stuff that happens in the background of our work that we don’t and can’t see.

Designers are constantly experimenting with new techniques that help us observe dark matter: borrowing language (e.g. reframing design as ‘regeneration’), using tools of speculative fiction, applying different ways of visualising and mapping systems to help people see their context in new ways.

Since reading Dan’s book in 2014, I’ve only become more convinced that the heart of our work is about detecting this dark matter, observing its effects, and making it visible to others.

 — Reuben Stanton, Design Director

Read the rest of Issue #33 here.

May 1, 2019

PG #32 – Don’t Ignore The Outliers

People typically focus on the averages in their data. Designing for the middle 90% is usually faster, cheaper, more efficient. But the ‘outliers’ in your data are people, and decisions that ignore their needs might cause real suffering.

In this newsletter we take a look at; the importance of outliers, the neural implications of skim reading, the power of visual journalism and share our world-first framework for assessing refugee identities

 — Reuben and the PG Team

April 16, 2019

PG #31 – The power of small, sensitive interventions

Illustration of a man and a woman holding ends of a drawing compass as it sketches a circle with two marked points

People that know me know I talk a lot about how design intervenes in the world. Sometimes, more cynically, I use the term ‘interferes’. I use these words as a way of reflecting on the fact that design – especially strategic design – is explicitly about changing existing ways of doing things in order to have an impact: on people, on the future, on organisations, on the planet.

A few weeks ago I was humbled to be on a panel alongside the wonderful designers Lina Patel and Leander Kreltszheim, where we discussed ‘Communities of Care’. Something Lina said at the session really stuck with me:

People come up [to me and say], “Oh, I want to make an impact.”

We’re in the anthropocene right now. Whether you like it or not, you will make an impact. […] We are literally making an impact on the geology of this planet. I think a more useful question to ponder is, “What kind of impact am I having?”

Designers (including myself) could stand to be a lot more humble about the impact that we have. To borrow Lina’s words, “I just don’t think that many of us are making that big a difference.” We are privileged to work at a point of change in complex systems, but the scale of our impact is, in reality, pretty limited.

On that note, I love this idea of ‘small, sensitive interventions’ – by choosing and considering how and where we intervene in organisations, systems and feedback loops, perhaps outsize positive impact is possible. Perhaps with small, sensitive interventions we can undo the negative effects of large, clumsy, insensitive ones. I think it’s worth a shot.

— Reuben Stanton, Design Director

Read the rest of Issue #31 here.

April 2, 2019

PG #30 – Turning data into decisions

“Just because something is easy to count doesn’t mean it’s useful to count, or relevant to the decisions you want to make.”  

When people look for evidence to base their decisions on, they tend to choose things that are easy to measure – simple numbers that you can watch go up or down. But the world isn't simple. When we use simple numbers as proxies for complexity, we can miss the very thing we are trying to understand.

In this fortnight's newsletter, we take a look at the complexities of designing with data, how sci-fi writers are being paid to predict our futures and Paper Giant's Experience Design and Strategy Lead, Kate Goodwin, reflects on the benefits of making friends with complexity.

– the PG team

March 20, 2019

PG #29 – Breaking cycles, creating cycles

In this fortnight's edition of the newsletter we ask, how can the work we do as designers be not disruptive, but regenerative – for our systems, our communities, for ourselves?

Because we are making changes to the world, and we have a responsibility to be stewards of our future.

– Reuben and the PG team

March 7, 2019

PG #28 – “When you can’t name a problem, you can’t solve it”

Women from all backgrounds working together to put puzzle pieces of the world back together.
Illustration by Hope Lumsden-Barry

Today is International Women’s Day, a day that for many women is one of both celebration and mourning: how far we’ve come, and how far we still have to go.

In that context, I want to talk briefly about ‘intersectionality’, a word that some people dismiss as one piece of jargon too many. “Every five minutes there’s a new word you have to know, and if you can’t keep up, you’re a bad feminist! It’s too much!” – that type of reaction.

Like feminism, intersectionality is both a rich and complex field of study, and also quite simple: it is fairly obvious, for example, that on average Aboriginal women in Australia have it tougher than white women. We need to do better, and intersectionality can help us understand how we can do better.

This week's newsletter is dedicated to understanding the difference not just between but within gender. And for me personally the lesson here is not to assume that, because I share a gender with someone, I can know what their experience is like. As always: read, research, ask questions, listen.

– McKinley and the PG team

The world is complete and bee rebuilt by women.

February 18, 2019

PG #27 – From human centred to community centred

In the last two years we've grown from a team of 6 to a team of 16, and around us has grown a wonderful community of researchers, designers, clients and community groups working their utmost to make positive change in the world (including you, dear newsletter reader!)

Lately I've been thinking a lot about that word, 'community'. If the last two years has taught me anything, it's that true, lasting, systemic change does not and cannot happen in isolation. 'Human-centred 'design is not enough. While it's certainly a step up from designer-centred design, it still doesn’t allow for a proper accounting of the impact – positive and negative – of design on the wider society and world.

What we need, as we face truly complex challenges (global decarbonisation anyone?), is a community-centred and community-enabling form of design – one that de-centres the human and takes into account the wider systems of influence and change. Human-centred decisions got us to where we are, and only community-centred decisions will get us out.

So that’s Paper Giant's vision for the next two years: bigger picture, strategic, values driven, community-centric, systems-change focused. Let's imagine and enable radically different futures, together.

 — Reuben

More from the Paper Giant team in this fortnight's newsletter.

February 5, 2019

PG #26 – Deciding where to draw the line

Illustration of the Sydney opera house covered in sale stickers

In this fortnight's edition of the newsletter we take a look at when it's useful to draw lines between things, and when it isn't.

Happy drawing.

— the PG team


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Paper Giant acknowledges the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation as the traditional owners of the lands on which our office is located, and the traditional owners of country on which we meet and work throughout Australia. We recognise that sovereignty over the land has never been ceded, and pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging.