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My Top Aspirational Design Companies

1 December, 2011

Emma Jefferies is an “an award winning researcher, designer, educator, writer and more recently filmmaker” according to her blog. She is also a very active and inspiring twitterer – which is how I ‘know’ her (or of her in the tweequaintance-sense).

Her site is a great resource and repository of curated design and research sources. She recently put out a call for people to share their new and untold stories of aspirational design companies. I was somewhat surprised that no agency/designer immediately came to mind. I mean, I think about and do this stuff all the time, but I had to mull a little (and chastise myself a little for being too self-referential in my influences). When I looked at my search history, my favorited tweets, my oft-thumbed articles it wasn’t necessarily the new that made me come over all aspirated. It was the focused, the people-centric, design-disciplined, change in the public and third sector organisations that inspire my desire to make a difference.

I’m not entirely sure I met the brief of new and untold because I chose three that I’m sure others will point to. But as I said in my contribution “These won’t be earth shatteringly new, but from a public sector design perspective (my field of interest) there are three agencies I regularly think WWTP/P/FGD”

ThinkPublic is focused on tackling societal challenges. They work with public sector agencies, third-party providers (social agencies, ‘not-for-profit’ or third-sector groups), and they just have a beautiful and accessible presence – in their work, in how they do work, in how they show what they do, and in how they champion outcomes. Helping getting people’s voices, citizens voices, is no mean feat, and using service design processes in such an engaging way is inspirational.


Pixar’s story is not so untold I suppose, but these guys and the way people work with people is inspiring. I think great collaboration is at the heart of great design – not just collaboration with users, but collaboration with designers/peers. Empowering the designers (there does still need to be a ‘Director’), engendering a peer culture, a safe place to tell the truth; it’s a focus on the outcomes that means no one person can achieve complex change alone.

I regularly read How Pixar Fosters Collective Creativity (HBR) when hierarchy gets me down.


FutureGov is a ‘change consultancy for government and social innovation’ – Amen, because as designers we are change agents. In fact, they specifically focus at the local government level because that is where real change can and does occur. They create the means (through design activity, through leveraging web technology e.g. cofluence) to engage people and facilitate change – which means they sometimes build the tools and the means (e.g. Patchwork, Casserole) for communities to own, engage, make, re-make and self-regulate the change. And they just do it; idea, invite, innovate, iterate, implement. How wonderful to describe a project as ‘imagination capturing’!

These three all have a humble (in the ‘kind’ and ‘usually beautiful’ sense) collaborative style, a very definitive and direct outcome and a sense of humour. They all aim to transform lives in a practical way. And it doesn’t hurt that they all seem to be in love with their jobs and what they can achieve.

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