→ Design & innovation intersections
→ Discussion on the metaverse
→ The impact of design on complex climate reporting

As we continue to adapt to lifestyle changes brought about by Covid-19, two years on, we have witnessed swift and dramatic innovative developments across industries in its wake. The pandemic shone a spotlight on how we live, interact, and prioritise aspects of our lives, individually and collectively. Unsurprisingly, in line with this evolving situation, well-known methods of continuous iteration in design and innovation practice have been seen playing out in real time.

Design & innovation
Good design can be inherently human-centred, especially when applied to user centred design and qualitative research methodologies. Design is a tool that helps us look through a magnifying glass with an additional level of sensitivity to the granular experience of the recipient. Here are two compelling example spaces where we can observe the synergism of design and innovation…

1. Digital Space —The Metaverse

Demand and necessity have driven the world increasingly online encouraging an unprecedented development of digital platforms and interactivity. Zuckerberg’s recent announcement introducing Facebook’s own metaverse into the mainstream repertoire is merely the latest in a tidal wave of conversation about advancing AR & VR technologies. What is the metaverse? “In its current meaning, metaverse generally refers to the concept of a highly immersive virtual world where people gather to socialise, play, and work.” — Merriam Webster

The idea of a parallel virtual universe is not a new concept, but as it becomes more of a tangible reality, pressing questions arise such as; how do human-centred principles translate to avatars in an entirely virtual space? And how do we continue to design to keep the (human) user’s interests at heart?

How design can have an impact
These concepts must take us beyond aesthetics and novelty to true understanding of usability and necessity in the face of such a paradigm shift towards restructuring the building blocks of everyday life.As businesses start to consider moving more and more resources to the virtual space, designers will be an invaluable asset. Beneficial design promotes seamless transitions and contributes to identifying elements of technology which, although technically developed, remains unsatisfying in terms of our experience.

Corporations and brands alike must keep in mind that the metaverse ecosystem is not solely reliant on user accessibility but will ultimately be driven by user need, experience, and relationship to the concept.To sustain this development, considered design processes strengthen the connection between user and developer, creating an environment that benefits both. We are already seeing brands invest in design to prepare for a more holistic virtual experience. Large retail brands like Nike, who recently added the virtual fashion startup RTFKT to their books, gaining access to the creation ofNFTs (Non-fungible token)and digital apparel, are just one example of the direction in which design trends will likely follow, into the virtual realm.¹

 "The idea is that you will eventually use your avatar to meet with people in a virtual space that replicates the feeling of being in an actual room with them," — Bill Gates, Microsoft co-founder.

2. Social Space — Climate Change & Reporting

Most of us are familiar with the concept of a changing climate. We have seen experts in the field deliver their findings across platforms. However, when the average person pictures the concept, instead of seeing the meticulously collected data showing clear trend patterns we are more likely to visualise melting icebergs and extreme weather events. That is not to say imagery like this cannot be impactful but often doesn't allow us to feel the incremental daily impact individuals, communities, cities, and governments have on the data being collected and ultimately presented back to us.

How design can have an impact
When it comes to encouraging social change, visual communication has long been emphasised to inform communities, voters and policy-makers alike. This aspect of design inspires understanding which is a prerequisite to implementing beneficial policy change.

For example, the interpretation of innovative developments in climate modelling, which present new and complex frameworks of cross-discipline integrations, is a taxing task to those outside of the field of expertise.But it is increasingly important for those non-experts, who may have influence over policy change, to gain a solid basis of understanding to take correct action.

Spark Works was recently involved this very process. Bringing user research, consultation and design together to produce an extensive report on climate modelling and climate risk as part of a think tank, for client, Baloise. Working closely with the design team in her role as User Researcher Justyna Urbaniak shared her perspective;

"For the think tank we were working on really complex topics from renewable energies to climate and risk modelling. The main challenge we faced was to synthesise all this expert knowledge and showcase it in a way that was understandable and suitable for an audience with diverse backgrounds and levels. The close collaboration with the designers who had an understanding of the research process and the needs of the audience was crucial to produce a visual report that was easily digestible and engaging."

In a similar process, for the first time, graphic designers were involved in the production of the widely cited IPCC report; Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis², a landmark United Nations report combining years worth of research from hundreds of the world’s leading climate scientists. In doing the impact of data to be communicated was significantly optimised. Simple visuals can tell a story of worrying trends through incremental changes and overall disquieting trajectories.

Img 1: Visual data from IPCC; Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis

Designed with the audience and end goal in mind, the visuals produced alongside the report promoted tangibly uncomfortable truths as opposed to indefinitely shocking extremes. The report was widely reproduced and trended across social media channels to affirm the message as well as confirm the value of clear design in delivery of complex concepts. One visual can condense pages of analytical text into a single message of digestible data

The IPCC graphics coordination was a collaborative process which aligned cognitive experts, users and policymakers through consultation and conversation, ultimately translating “what is not perceivable out of raw data or out of your window.” — Melissa Gomis, Senior Science Officer to Inside Climate News.³

Img 2: Twitter's response to the IPCC report graphics


The importance of design inclusion throughout developments coinciding with human experience or perception is being acknowledged across industries, reaching far beyond the examples presented here. It starts with recognising that ‘knowing’ is not always enough but harnessing the gift of sharing innovations through a designed experience can drive them forward at an at an accelerated rate.

We hope to see continued collaborative efforts between designers and experts in highly technical fields such as climate modelling and digital technology. To do so would mean truly translating the important but complex social implications in a language that we all speak, whether consciously or not.

Sani Lama
Design Associate
After graduating with Dual Honours in Architecture and Landscape Architecture from the University of Sheffield, Sani gained valuable experience within practices specialising in a people focused approach to spatial design. Her diverse design background highlighted an aptitude and enthusiasm for visual aesthetics from which she honed her skills as a graphic designer. Sani now works from Spark Work’s London base supporting the company's design and marketing activities.
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