Can our economy – both on the private and the public side – become more essential than it is at the moment? And what might be the role of design in this process? We will search for the answers at WDF: Design and Essential Economy.

We believe this constitutes an urgent question for our times:

  • Consumers are confronted with such an extensive array of options that they are overwhelmed. More options than can be fitted onto a single car, the many options available for health insurance, the wide range of energy providers, the shelves overflowing with different choices of teas, coffees, light bulbs.
  • On the public side, people are faced with a wealth of generalized rules/laws which are difficult to apply to individual situations. In their ambition to treat similar cases equally the institutions’ execution of laws and rules becomes so complicated (especially in the field of social security) that citizens become caught up in bureaucracy. Whereas when people temporarily have to appeal to social security services, this is precisely the area where they want customized service.

The essential economy is an economy which produces a greater satisfaction by facilitating a better interface between supply and demand and supplier and user. Concepts such as demand articulation, demand-based approach, user-driven design, kitchen table conversations, customization etc. are key notions. It’s all about supply and demand in business, but also in the relationships between governments and citizens, doctors and patients, housing corporations and tenants etc. This is about all those processes where one person’s demand can be met by another person’s supply.

A new attitude
Asking people the right questions, advising and guiding them in their purchasing processes then becomes the new form of conducting sales. Good salespeople and estate agents are already practicing these ideas; websites where people can compare products and services support them. Active, alert and with a great deal of self-knowledge: this will be the new attitude with which people go shopping; knowing which things they really want and what will really make them happy for a prolonged period of time. An added dimension can be found in institutionalised forms of supplying and purchasing, such as industrial mass producers, who can speak of mass-customizing, and purchasing departments at governments, institutions and businesses. It will help people discover that in fact they do not adhere as much to owning certain products, but more to the use of those products, which will promote things such as carpooling.

Unique role for design
Design has a potentially unique role to fulfil in this process. The encounter between supply and demand is at its most crucial when the buyer is not yet fully decided on what it is he/she wants and the designer is not yet sure what he/she might design for the buyer. Essential to this process are Experiential Design Scapes and Interactive User Design, in which both parties discover along the way what the (underlying) demand is and what kind of customized supply may be designed to provide it.

WDF will:

1)    Explain the essential economy by offering the stage to a number of appealing examples
2)    Study the opportunities this way of working may offer businesses and organisations
3)    Offer a platform to people who are planning to set up new initiatives
4)    Challenge designers to come up with contributions/methods/solutions design can bring