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The power of collaboration

Engineer working in front of screens

Sometimes the life of a designer can seem a little… well ambiguous. I can say that because it’s the career I chose. We spend a lot of our days deliberating over just the right shade of green. Something that will suggest vibrancy yet not look too gaudy; young yet experienced; fresh yet professional… We spend time angsting over just the right font to get the brand message across. It’s our ninja power – it’s what we are trained to do. My friends may think I spend all day doing grown up colouring in but there’s actually a lot more to it than that.

This is brought to life in a great new three-part documentary on the BBC that really highlights the amazing things that good design can provide. The Big Life Fix is hosted by Simon Reave who starts by posing the question:

‘What if the best brains in Britain could fix your life?’

It’s an intriguing thought. The program brings together seven of the UK’s leading engineers, designers and computer programmers to tackle issues affecting both individuals and communities. The team features an eclectic mix of people including a director from Microsoft, engineers from Dyson’s Innovation lab and award-winning designers who have created everything from ambulances to earthquake sensors.

The challenges the team faced have included finding a way to bring internet and phone connections to a remote Welsh village in an affordable way. Developing a camera attachment and app to allow a keen photographer with a life-limiting condition to carry on his passion. Tackling the problem of sheep rustling by coming up with an ingenious invention to make every sheep in the country traceable by a mobile phone app and developing a wristband for a young Parkinson’s sufferer that allowed her to write and draw again for the first time in four years.

The stories are moving at times. But what I find most inspiring is the force for good that design can become when combined with cutting edge technology, science, and engineering. If nothing else, it demonstrates the way in which a more joined up and collaborative approach can bring a fresh perspective to a problem and a whole new set of solutions that have not been considered before.

What I like most about this series is that you get to see the whole process. The mistakes, the crazy ideas that didn’t work, the prototypes made of bits of blue tac and held together with sellotape. You can see just how much all the team want to push themselves to find a better solution and the effort they put in. And whilst they are often designing for an individual, their problem solving will have a far great impact on the wider world.

Many of the prototypes that have been developed in the series have been released onto open source website GitHub. The 3D print files from some of the products have been uploaded meaning that anyone with a 3D printer can now recreate them themselves. (You can read more here). The most exciting aspect to this is in what might be created next. By giving people the foundations of a great bit of design, just how might someone take this and turn it into something we can’t yet even imagine?

If you haven’t yet seen The Big Life Fix it’s well worth a watch. Even if you think design is not your thing. If nothing else, it will show you just what can be achieved when design, science, technology, geeks, common sense, craziness, determination, and talent are brought together for the greater good.

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