Our city is a leader in many areas–biotechnology, health care, tourism, military, and if the folks who put on UC San Diego’s Design > Forward Summit have their way, we can soon add design to the list of sectors San Diego excels in.

The UC San Diego Design Lab held a one-day summit this summer on the Broadway Pier that brought together more than four hundred business, community and civic leaders to brainstorm and discuss what they called design-driven innovation and the design-driven economy. Also present was Mayor Kevin Faulconer and Mark Cafferty, president and CEO of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation.

Design in action.

“[Design > Forward] is the first event of its kind here in the San Diego,  if not beyond. It’s a conversation-starter for the region around design-driven innovation,” said Michele Morris, associate director of the UC San Diego Design Lab. “What we are trying to do is build upon the many efforts of people in the San Diego area.” The summit included representatives from diverse sectors such as education, medicine and technology.

The event focused on “design thinking” or human-centered design, which has three key components. The first is solving the correct underlying root problem rather than the symptom, the second is a focus on the needs of those who will ultimately use the design, and, finally, the principle of TOM: think, observe, make, which also involves testing new designs early in the process in order to refine and improve if and as needed.


“We’re doing a new kind of design that uses evidence to approach anything, especially complex problems,” said Don Norman, Director of UC San Diego’s Design Lab, who also noted that the event served the important function of bringing together designers and potential clients. “It’s design that we can use for health care, we can use for automated vehicles, we can use for designing transportation systems–anything complex because design thinking – and more importantly design doing – is a way of solving real underlying problems.”

Some examples of issues that can be solved by this new paradigm, said Norman, could be, for instance, ones that automated vehicles presented: how one crosses in front of an automated car if there is no driver, and how automated cars and pedestrians might communicate at crosswalks.

Collaborative discussion on design initiatives in local educational organizations.

“Don [Norman] and the Design Lab have really created the spark,” said Scott Robinson, president and CEO of the digital branding agency FreshForm. “They’ve ignited the conversation…we can actually reshape the future of what the city is all about.”

Ultimately, the summit organizers hope that the event will inaugurate a new era of design in San Diego, putting our town on the map in the design world. “We’re not just a tourist town, we’re not just a sleepy beach town–we’ve got a lot of talent here, and a lot of technology,” said Morris, who hopes the summit will become annual. “And in this day and age when technology is moving at such an incredibly fast pace, it’s essential that we really design what we want…we want San Diego to be more than just America’s finest city. We want people to say ‘San Diego–innovation is designed is here.’”

For more information, visit http://designforwardsd.com and http://designlab.ucsd.edu.

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