Lab Focused on Human-Centered Design Moves to Put San Diego on Map

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the forefront of human-centered design in Silicon Valley, New York, and Washington D.C., San Diego has the makings for becoming a major design hub. The vibe is different here, she says.

By one estimate, there are 2,000 practicing designers in San Diego, and Morris said, “The collaborative nature of what we have here is pretty phenomenal. We live in this very unusual city that has a strong component in technology, a strong component of military, and it’s a beach town at the same time.”

The non-profit Design Forward Alliance, which was created last year to organize and manage the Design Forward Summit, comprises nearly three dozen entrepreneurs, designers, and design-driven firms and companies that are supporting the cause in San Diego. As president of the all-volunteer Alliance, Scott Robinson provided some additional insights in response to questions from Xconomy. Robinson is founder and president of the San Diego design agency FreshForm. His answers have been lightly edited for clarity:

Xconomy: Is the design community in San Diego any bigger than other cities with tech clusters? For example, Austin, TX; Seattle; Boulder-Denver; Boston?

Scott Robinson: Bigger? Maybe. We have uncovered that there are well over 2,000 practicing designers in San Diego.

With Don Norman coming back to San Diego, combined with the world-class academic research from the UC San Diego Design Lab, and the energy of the existing design communities in San Diego—AIGA, UX Speakeasy, SDXD, and SEGD—we can harness these elements to quickly become the global hub for design-driven innovation. Illumina, Qualcomm, and Thermo Fisher are all continuing to build up their design teams. San Diego Startup Week has added a design track to their program.

X: What is the Design Forward Alliance trying to accomplish?

SR: The Design Forward Alliance is a new non-profit organization created by design leaders in the San Diego community who believe in a design-driven innovation economy.

The mission is to create a unified effort that promotes the value of professional design and design thinking for better outcomes in business, education, government and the San Diego community. We aim to have a tangible impact on the city as we articulate the value and process of human-centered design. The Design for San Diego (D4SD) Civic Design Challenge on Mobility is one initiative.

X: How do you know if you’ve succeeded?

SR: Short term success:

1) We increase the demand for design in organizations (corporate, nonprofit and government) in San Diego. This comes through more job posts for designers of all disciplines.

2) We also retain top design talent in San Diego. The talent will feel there’s plenty of complex problems to solve here in San Diego and the workforce knows that organizations are leveraging the process of human-centered design to solve these problems.

Long term success:

1) We draw college students and adult learners to San Diego as a hub for the best human-centered design education. UC San Diego, San Diego State University, University of San Diego, and Domus Academy are all offering design thinking courses.

2) We draw talent to San Diego as a hub for design leadership jobs, for example, by luring Amazon and others to open design studios here.

3) We consistently provide value back to the region through various design-driven initiatives (projects and tangible artifacts) and events.

4) Earn the designation of World Design Capital for San Diego by 2028.

2016 Design Forward Summit (UCSD Design Lab photo used with permission)

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Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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