Designing Dublin

Posted on February 21, 2011


I am just back from a weekend in Dublin, where I went to visit the lovely team of Designing Dublin.

Set up by Design Twentyfirst Century, a not for profit organisation dedicated to promoting the the role that design, creativity and innovation can play in the development of Ireland, the project is a collaboration with Dublin City Council. It brings together a multidisciplinary team of volunteers to work on some of the challenges that the city is facing. Simply put, it is about using design as a method to find solutions with Dubliners (in the broad sense, including everyone who uses the city) to make Dublin a better place.

Now running for its second time, Designing Dublin was informed by “Wishes for Dublin” from which three themes emerged: water, community and waste. Exploring the theme of waste of resources led to the first projectFinding the hidden potential of places.

The second project, Love the City, is about “inspiring people to become re-aware of the City Centre’s offerings.” The team researched and selected an area that they felt “deserved more love” and are now investigating ways to make it more attractive.

I had a very inspiring conversation with Susan, who helps to facilitate the project, as well as Nuala and Tara, members of the team. We touched on many different themes and I really wish I had brought with me a recording device more reliable than my notebook + overwhelmed brain combination! But here are the main points that I can recall:


Very often, in conversations about social innovation, the question of “when is change actually going to happen?” seems to be raised. So, I was curious to hear their point of view on the impact of the project.

Nuala mentioned 3 types of change:

  • short-term change
  • policy change
  • mindset change

Short-term change are instantaneous and easily doable, often ephemeral, like community events or festivals. Policy change speaks for itself, and mindset change is about changing the way we do things and influencing attitudes in the long term. Although mindset change is obviously the most desirable, short term changes are not to be underestimated, as they are often the means through which it is implemented.

Later on, Tara, who is focusing on the concept of ownership and participative citizenship, pointed out that the success of her projects would be determined by how well they live on and grow after her intervention. I find this approach very interesting. In a way, it is about admitting that the value of designing and planning is not in implementing change but in inspiring change – planting seeds.


Susan also pointed out that Designing Dublin is a learning project, and that its impact can be measured in terms of learning outcomes – not only discovering the city and getting a deeper understanding of its people, but also learning about the design process.

For Nuala, the impact can be represented by the change in the way designers work and the city council approaches planning issues – the project is about learning how to learn, that is exploring new problem finding and problem solving processes, using the city as a giant laboratory.

So, on top of the individual transformative experience that participants go through, there is a wider outcome, which touches on re-evaluating the place and role of design in the shaping of Ireland’s future.


I then had a bit of time to wander around the studio and immerse myself in the post-it festival that seems to be happening everywhere on the walls. It gave me a fantastic insight into their process, from the creative ways used to collect data from the streets, to how sense was being made of all this information.

From this research, the team identified 11 things that the area lacked of. Each member was then assigned a “lack of…” to investigate and come up with potential responses, to then prototype and test.

I am particularly interested in the lack of ownership / citizenship, which Tara is working on, but I will expand on it in another post!


For the moment, I will just finish by saying that what struck me the most was the depth of the research and the openness of the process. It seemed to be more about uncovering possibilities and opportunities than finding and implementing solutions. The level of questionning – regarding why things happen the way they do – highlighted for me the importance of active listening and curiosity.

Our MA is a lot about exploring new roles for designers, and this visit gave me a very enlightening insight on how relevant the idea of learning by doing is in this context.


* by Fan Sissoko