Archive for November, 2009

At the Rotman business school last night, Roger Martin talked with two design thinkers featured in his new book: scientist Stephen Scherer from the Hospital for Sick Children and Claudia Kotchka, former VP, Innovation, Design and Strategy, Procter & Gamble. Among their insights: design thinkers “pay attention to things other people don’t pay attention to.” In Stephen Scherer’s case, this means looking into research data that others typically throw out (in his words “discoveries from the garbage can”).

Over the past six years or so, Roger Martin has himself paid attention to a world that few business people ever consider might offer them any useful insight. “It all started with my encounters with Hambly and Woolley, a small design firm here in Toronto. Just by osmosis, I became interested in the way they would think about problems” he explains in Rotman Magazine. Within this living lab of a studio Martin saw different ways of defining questions and moving through possibilities.

Having worked with Bob Hambly and his associate Dominic Ayre to develop a new branding approach and graphics for our firm, we can see how the Martin/H&W meeting of minds could have magical qualities with far-reaching effects. 

 – Sharon VanderKaay

A prolific writer and social commentator on urban art and architecture, John Bentley Mays has done much to advance critical design thinking in Toronto. What many in the design field may not know is that he is also a strong advocate for Christian cultural values and has spoken frequently of its broader influence on the experience of the city.

To this point, his newly launched web portal, Art, Architecture and the City nicely connects the dots between contemporary design discourse and an inherent desire for all citizenry to achieve what Mays describes as an “authentic urban spirituality.” In God and the Secular City for example, he posits that “the day of the city has arrived” and goes on to discuss the need for a “constructive engagement of orthodox imagination with the structures of urban life.” Elsewhere in The Crystal at the Royal Ontario Museum Mays lauds its near existential qualities as a site of “considerable freedom to think, act and move, to create and criticize.”  Throughout all his musings, it is clear that the common thread is a robust passion for creating, as Jane Jacobs described, the liveable city.

Kudos to John for being an unwavering champion of good design and an advocate for innovative thinking.

– Farrow Partnership


When Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities was first published in 1961, planners and politicians restricted themselves to questions such as “What are our plans for executing urban renewal? How can we move cars and trucks most efficiently through the city?”

The result of this kind of thinking brought alienation and economic blight as communities were destroyed and families were forced to relocate. One of Jacobs’ most valuable contributions was to change the nature of planning conversations to encompass quality of life issues: “What elements contribute to vibrant communities?  What options are there for moving through the city?

These kinds of questions were based on her observations, rather than theory derived from a mechanical view of the world. Jacobs looked at evidence on the street—to what was actually happening—and saw the advantages of combining work and living spaces. She recognized that human needs for social connections and the safety of  “eyes on the street” were fed by diversity of use and starved by segregation and uniformity.

In their recently published book GENIUS OF COMMON SENSE: Jane Jacobs and the Story of The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Glenna Lang and Marjory Wunsch write for “ages 10 to 100.”

Genius of Common Sense

The authors not only bring together pieces of history and personal insight into Jacobs’ extraordinary life, they also provide a memorable story for younger readers that sheds light on critical thinking and how people can fervently cling to ideas that do not serve their own interests.

Today’s notion of design thinking avoids jumping at answers to the wrong questions, and resists neat solutions that fail to scratch the surface of possibilities. Another basic tenet of design thinking is to place more faith in observation than conventional wisdom. It strikes me that the advantages of this rigorous, lateral, whole brain approach can be demonstrated not only through current case studies, but also historically by reflecting on the struggles and triumphs of Jane Jacobs’ life. Understanding the consequences of ignoring the design thinking lessons of 50 years and more are worth considering, it seems to me. 

– Sharon VanderKaay

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    We see our collaboration with clients and colleagues as providing a living lab for enriching the creative process. Farrow’s built work has been internationally recognized for leadership in human-centric design. This is where we come to discuss our ideas as they hatch and our experiences as they happen.
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