The Relevance of Goethe to Modern Design | Simon Robinson

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The Relevance of Goethe to Modern Design | The Startup

The Relevance of Goethe to Modern Design Practices

Simon Robinson

Simon Robinson

Dec 27 · 9 min read

Japan miniature village
Credit: Himuraseta. Pixabay

Design thinking may have democratised the modern design process over the last two decades, but what it has not achieved is the democratisation of the way of seeing of the designer. This is because when people attend design thinking workshops, Google sprints or any other forms of agile or startup design methodologies, the quality of our seeing and the relationship between our intellects, our observational capacities and our lifeworlds is all but barely addressed.

The notion of lifeworld comes from the phenomenological philosophy of Edmund Husserl who introduced the term in 1936. Once the concept has been fully grasped, it can transform our approach to design by changing the way we think about understanding, observing, analysing, and interpreting behavioural and attitudinal research. It does so by engendering us with a subtle yet powerful form of empathic understanding which opens up new avenues of insights and ideas for exploration.

All of us have experiences, sensations, feelings, thoughts, opinions, and ideas. We are conscious of the world around us, we explore it in many different ways depending on our upbringing, culture, education, and talents, and yet we often do not give much thought to exploring the way in which the world appears to us. This is the essential aspect of the lifeworld; when we explore the world using the techniques of phenomenology, we do not separate the objects from the meaning ascribed to them — the meaning of an object lies in appearing to us as meaningful.

An example of working with lifeworlds comes from an in-depth case study which is presented in our book Customer Experiences with Soul: A New Era in Design. I was asked to design a communications event for Hospital Sírio Libanês, one of the largest and most important hospitals in South America. The brief was relatively straight forward. The senior management team wanted to communicate the strategic map which had been created in order to help the hospital develop plans for their evolution and growth to take them forward for the subsequent five years. Most ideas that had been suggested were based on the senior team presenting the strategic map from a stage in the hospital’s main auditorium.

But here is the question. When you think about the lifeworlds of each collaborator in the hospital — porters, nurses, security staff, nutritionists, receptionists, cleaners — the question to ask is would a strategic map make any sense to them and how would they be able to relate this management tool to their own realities at the hospital? A strategic map may be an obvious communication tool to those who work with them day in day out, but is it really the most effective way to communicate complex senior management plans to every single person working at a hospital?

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The Relevance of Goethe to Modern Design | The Startup