By Thit Juul Madsen, CEO, D2i – Design to innovate
The world around us shapes the way we think and create ideas, and the way we create ideas forms the world around us. This is the underlying hypothesis of this article.
A growing number of companies and organisations no longer limit the process of innovation to the confines of their own organisations or the combined abilities of their staff. They open up and engage with users, non-users, customers, suppliers, vendors, partners and employees in order to co-create valuable solutions to their users and customers – solutions and products they could not have created on their own. Co-creation involves a democratisation as well as a decentralisation of value creation – moving value creation from inside to outside the company in interaction with a wide range of stakeholders.
The largest brands are co-creating. LEGO is developing solutions with users and fans, Nike and Apple co-created Nike+, Odense University Hospital in Denmark is developing solutions with staff and users and ECCO is co-creating the future of footwear with students from the Design School Kolding also in Denmark.
In other words, the present is co. The current trend in innovation is all about collaboration, co-living, co-working and co-creating, where solutions are developed and created in new shared spaces of knowledge, insights and ideas.
The driving forces: Economic crisis and the search for new communities
One of the drivers of the state of co is the sharing economy, a counter-reaction to the economic and environmental crisis, consumerism, over-production and an excess of waste. People are looking for new ways of (re)connecting and creating meaningful communities, as well as sustainable economic systems.
There are many different examples of sharing economies on a small and large scale, from a street in suburbia sharing a trailer and gardening tools, to digital platforms for sharing baby gear. Game-changing companies like AirBnB, HomeExchange, Uber, GoMore and Vigga are all examples of companies that provide services without really owning any products, instead organising and facilitating users to share already existing products and services.
The current trend for sharing also has a strong physical dimension with a new wave of co-living forms and communes. From the organic and self-sustaining village Permatopia in Karise outside Copenhagen, to Charlottenhaven in Copenhagen, an apartment complex with shared workspaces, cafés and gyms, as well as an increase in micro communes in shared houses and apartments. In the outdoor areas the sharing takes the form of urban gardens in the street, backyards and on rooftops. The sharing trend is also on the rise in the workspace, with a mushrooming of new forms of co-working facilities, with shared workshops, creative workspaces, canteens and meeting facilities like WeWork in NYC, BLOX in Copenhagen and our own residence at Pakhuset in Kolding.
These trends of sharing physical space, indoor and outdoor, are a signs of a human need to re-connect with nature and to build new local communities.
Looking into the future: Hybrids and demographic shifts
One of the latest emerging trends in business development and entrepreneurship is hybridisation, where innovation arises from merging traditional technology and new technology, like hybrid cars, combining gas with electricity.
But hybrid innovations also take place in the intersections between industries, organisations and companies. Hybrids are happening on the edges, where different professions and genres meet – like a group of railway manufacturers and operators teamed up with a group of companies who create products and services for kids. The result of the unlikely pairing was completely re-designed and fully furbished train carriages, catering to the specific needs and desires of families travelling in Catalonia, which delivers new enjoyable experiences for the users. Or when artists, designers and event makers join forces and create completely new event experiences for retail clients and new creative co-working space for the creative hybrids of tomorrow.
Some of the mega trends that are shaping now and the future is urbanisation and the rising cost of square metres, be it for living, working or playing, combined with the rise of single-person households. More and more people live and work in the city, and more people live alone. In Denmark it is 45%, in Finland it is 40.8%, and in the UK it is 30.6%, of the population who live alone.
A third trend is the rise of freelancers. By 2020 it is estimated that 50% of the workforce will be freelancers.
These three trends – urbanisation, single households and freelancers – put an immense strain on space itself, but also on the shape of space. This is combined with the above-mentioned trends of co-creation and hybrid innovation that happen in open collaborations, across not only geography and culture, but also industries, companies and organisations. And what does that mean for the future and what could that possible future look like?
It could be a future where more people live alone and fewer people have 9 to 5 jobs, and where the nuclear family with two steady jobs will be the exception, not the rule. Due to the increase in freelancers and the trend of co-creation, we could very well see a decline in corporate office buildings and high security patent-producing research labs and a rise in open, transparent and highly flexible and fluid structures that cater to creative-spirited freelancers, entrepreneurs and innovators. The physical space will be expected to be welcoming and open and underpin sharing, creativity, co-creation, networking and hybridisation. The lifestyle of the freelancers will be the norm, where the lines between home, work and play are blurred, if they are there at all, and new types of communities based on shared values will see the light of day.
There would be a rise in smaller and smarter living spaces, with flexible solutions and shared indoor and outdoor spaces, like rooftop terraces, urban gardens, extra bedrooms, kitchens, gyms and in- and outdoor areas for play and recreation. We will see urban areas designed for people, with fewer cars, more bikes and small cargo vehicles. We would see more small parks and shared urban gardens that double as micro-farming and recreational areas.
We would see a different and more fluid flow in the cities, as fewer people are bound by a 9 to 5 job or a commute, relieving congestion during peak hours. We would see cities sleeping even less, but at the same time becoming more peaceful.
Designed for sharing: The impact of sharing and a desirable future
In a world populated by sharing single people and freelancers, we need to cater to the soloist playing in an ensemble. We need to cater for a new form of individualism, where you still have your own show, playing solo, but at the same time are part of a collective, a fellowship comprised by like-minded people, who also play their own solos, as well as being engaged in an ensemble.
What are the implications of sharing on large- and small-scale development? And what do our products or solutions look like, if they are designed for sharing?
Let’s imagine what that design constraint would mean to a floor plan of a home. It would entail several private spaces, ranging from small rooms to suites, combined with larger shared spaces and even facilities shared with a larger number of people, the whole building, or the street. Perhaps it would be a hybrid between a hotel, a dorm, a villa and a co-working space. And the aesthetics would be a luscious mash up of Google, Burning Man and a Balinese cottage. A place for innovation, generosity and contemplation.
What would a desirable future look like, if we own less stuff and everything around us is designed for sharing? Very different indeed.
I hope it would be a future designed to reflect the human need for connection and being part of meaningful communities. And the measure of success no longer comprises the stuff we own, but our ability to share in abundance.
 Gouillart and Ramaswamy: 2010
 Clayton Christensen: 2013
 Eurostat: 2011
 Forbes & PeoplePerHour: 2015