Forward Thinking Design Process [DRAFT]

Image Credit : Forward Thinking Design




Project Overview

We are submitting our own, internal, design thinking process/service to this award.

Forward Thinking Design was founded to offer an alternative choice of consultancy for those with social, ethical and environmental impact values at their core. FTD’s proprietary design thinking process has evolved, over the past 17 years, to be able to be taught to, and applied by, any user. It creates agile strategy and maximises project return on investment. It builds upon traditional design thinking systems but is self-checking and user-tested for today's challenges. It centres on a human-centric and collaborative design focus.

Originally born from our work in hospitality, retail and workplace brand and interior design; our process now works to create high impact strategy for a broad base of business, government, cultural and public/community organisations (especially social enterprise and not-for-profit). The process empowers our clients by having them join with us in designing from a deep user experience/social and environmental perspective.

Our commercial profits are retained to finance our extensive low and pro bono work for charities and other social enterprise. This has resulted in us being awarded B Corporation and Social Traders Certifications as a social enterprise ourselves.


Forward Thinking Design


Vanessa Cullen

Project Brief

We have observed the dilution of design thinking processes as designers lower fees by dropping research and creative problem solving in favour of providing simple aesthetic outcomes. Design thinking has been co-opted as a catch phrase by other professions and the process detached from its roots as the practice of qualified and experienced DESIGNERS. The process is becoming misunderstood and devalued as an agile, sophisticated, highly practical method of creating strategy. To counter this, we have built a robust, facilitated service that truly re-connects research, strategy, creativity and commerciality (as practiced by true DESIGNERS) whilst bringing this into partnership with the client to empower them in the process of working with us. Creating positive impact together.

Our design thinking process/service has been the basis of our firm being solvent, profitable and in-demand for almost two decades. It supports diversity as an asset, inclusion, co-design, long term skilling and value creation, buy-in and highly efficient resource utilisation (human and material especially in ESD & Circular Economy principles). Applying our process to client projects has typically resulted in 3-30% increases in client gross turnover (up to 200% in NFP client projects), significant improvements in profit, reductions in WHS costs and significant increases in staff/volunteer/community morale, productivity and engagement.

Project Innovation/Need

We were the first and are the only B Corporation and Social Traders Certified firm of our type in Australia, recognising our unique social, commercial and environmental credentials.

Our elegant and efficient service flows as follows: Context (Research & Audit) - Strategy - Sketch & Ideate - Detail & Prototype - Evaluate & Refine Rapidly - Implement - Evaluate again, and loops back around to self reference and self check each stage against the earlier steps. It runs full circle to end up back at the beginning in a process of constant Evolution. It can be applied to briefs in the tradition design fields of industrial, graphic, spatial and can also be applied to service design and business strategy/problem solving and future planning for agility. It can be built into the DNA of any organisation or community, once learned, and can form part of a larger Quality Management System focused on user empowerment, up-skilling and co-design.

Each element of our service has been refined, hand in hand, with our clients and can now be taught to, and applied by, any user, with the Designer as initial guide and facilitator. Elements can be taken out and executed individually or as part of the process as a whole, depending on client need. The experience can be owned by the client. By teaching a method of creative/problem-solving thinking we upskill and empower all those involved in each project, and/or to whom we teach our design process.

Design Challenge

We were trail blazers as a social enterprise founded before the term 'social enterprise' ever existed. Socially and environmentally positive design was a hard sell two decades ago when our young founder started out but she persisted, overcoming continual business challenges and winning accolades whilst still waiting over a decade for the world to fully catch up with her vision.

She/we have refined and strengthened our design thinking process in retaliation against the industry-wide dilution of rigorous processes (caused by declining fees and popular expectations of interior designers as only providing simple aesthetic outcomes). Design thinking has been devalued and co-opted as a catch-phrase by other professions, whilst business and social impact funds are wasted on DIY executed fitout/built environment design and construct projects. Hand in hand with our clients we have tested and built a robust, facilitated, end to end service process that thoroughly re-connects research, strategy, creativity, prototyping and high impact commercial outcomes (as practiced by true DESIGNERS), whilst bringing this into partnership with the client to empower them in the process of working with us. Creating positive impact together.

We are now the only B Corporation and Social Traders Certified firm of our type in Australia, recognising our unique social, commercial and environmental credentials. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and Circular Economy principles are embedded throughout everything we do.

Future Impact

We are the only B Corporation and Social Traders Certified firm of our type in Australia & we are constantly working with independent third parties (such as UNSW) to monitor & report our impacts. Hundreds of successful project testimonials from communities/clients & their balance sheet figures prove the enduring improvements in our client organisations. By taking a human-centric, collaborative approach we improve stakeholder morale & engagement, & significantly reduce W.H.S risks.

Our service process is rigorous, easy to follow, inclusive, accessible, self-checking and emotionally intelligent. Diversity as seen as an asset. Client and stakeholder involvement is embedded throughout the journey, as a means to growing understanding, communication, capabilities and kinship.

Examples of our collaborative service/process applied:

- Business, built environment strategy & design for the following NFP food-service & co-operative organisations: Alfalfa House, Flametree Co-Op, Lentil As Anything, Staples Bag; resulting in gross turn over increases up to 200%, negative waste interior fitout/renovations, increase in volunteer and community involvement numbers, dramatic decreases in WHS complaints and incidents, dramatic increases in reported staff/volunteer morale

- Business, built environment strategy & design for commercial clients such as Baku (Australian swimwear), Club Catalina: gross turn over increases up to 15%, up to 40% fitout cost reductions, support of regional and local manufacturing, dramatic decreases in WHS complaints, ESD best practice fitouts.

We view the creative/persuasive power of design as a privilege to be wielded with great responsibility, best directed to creating a better, fairer,
more sustainable world.

This award celebrates creative and innovative solution design for the successful delivery and provision of services. Consideration given to system integration, user experience, product design
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