Storytelling and Design for Good

The Importance of Design Thinking: Reflections from Compostmodern 2011

Let me start by stating: Compostmodern 2011 was one of the best conferences I have ever been to. I have been to a lot of conferences in many sectors in my life, including international and national symposiums on climate change, environmental, governance, greenbuilding, business, communications, innovation, technology and design. Not only was Compostmodern a great conference because there were amazing thought leaders that spoke about design issues, but the conference organizers also thought about every detail of the event to make it fantastic, including the fantastic moderation that featured a poem at the end of Day One.

The format of having a one-day conference followed by a second day with an “unconference” allowed for networking among the more than 600 attendees (all thought leaders in their own right). People united on thought-provoking topics, focusing their conversations on issues that are not traditionally thought of as design issues such as; social justice, community engagement, social entrepreneurship, open innovation and technology, how to effectively use the media for social good, the power of good storytelling, and educating people without monetary means (for example, Bruce Mau introduced an idea of trying to find an “EpiPen solution” to create a more universal education solution for people who don’t have access to formal education structures.) However, with all of this, what really qualifies as a “design” issue?

As someone who has lived in Washington, D.C. for the last six years, I had begun to attribute design to the building industry because that is mostly how it is referred when I go to meetings or conferences. Though trained as a general designer and even practicing the art of design for several years (as a jewelry and communications designer), I found myself attributing design to a sector of work and not a way of thinking. During the short time I spent at Compostmodern, I began to remember why I became a designer in the first place. The process of thinking, specifically “design thinking” (a way to solve the world’s many problems to create change in the world) is what attracted me to becoming a designer. Since design thinkers apply a seven-step process to the problems they solve—define, research, ideate, prototype, choose, implement and learn—they often believe there is more than one rigid answer for any problem. Most design thinkers share a common set of values that drive innovation. These values are mainly creativity, ambidextrous thinking, teamwork, end-user focus and curiosity. Therefore, having more than 600 design thinkers in one space attempting to solve issues like education and how to create a more socially just world was a powerful experience—one I will never forget.

As such, I have tried to decipher my scribbled notes in hopes of sharing with you and the world what I learned over the two days I was there. The following is a compilation of quotes and words of wisdom from the speakers, as well as a list of websites supporting open innovation sharing and design.


“As designers we have the ability to create the obtainability and opportunity to bring products at the right price and level of sustainability to the world. We as designers are uniquely placed to do this at scale.” Yves Beher, Founder of Fuse Project

“Design to take things out when designing for sustainability.” Yves Beher, Founder of Fuse Project

“Designers should aim to earn a seat at the table with CEOs. Currently, we don’t speak the language; we’re unprepared.” Christopher Simmons, Creative Director at MINE

“What is most important in our space is creating authentic experiences while thinking about the consciousness of working… It’s the little things that make big things.” Janine James, President, Chief Creative Officer, The Moderns

“My challenge to all of you: How do we take scientific information about products and processes and get people to care about the products they consume?” Dara O’Rourke, Co-Founder of GoodGuide

OpenIDEO was created as a market place for human-centered solutions in order to help solve problems without an intrinsic incentive for money… Collective creativity and knowledge are less about the individual and more about the community.” Nathan Waterhouse, Lead at OpenIDEO

“The most important thing that has happened as a result of Soup is that we have invested in our own neighborhoods bringing people together face-to-face within our community.” Kate Daughdrill, Founder, Soup

“Simple solutions are the best solutions.” Scott Thomas (a.k.a. SimpleScott), Design Director of New Media at Obama for America

“Design offers the ability to communicate visually.” Scott Thomas (a.k.a. SimpleScott), Design Director of New Media at Obama for America

“In order to create lasting partnerships for cause marketing, you must build and invest in partnerships that commit and invest in you and your cause.” Julie Cordua, Communications Director at (RED)

“One: People like freaks; apomorphic animals are the most popular. Two: Tell stories about villains who break the cherished norms or rebels who defy hated ones. Three: Tell stories people can instantly identify as their own and give them easy entrance points to the story.” Jonah Sachs, Founder, Free Range Studios

“We need to increase research for designing social problems and systems because the impacts and outcomes are vast.” Heather Fleming, Founder and CEO, Catapult Designs

“How do we make sharing irresistible?” Lisa Gansky, Author of the Mesh

“Efficiency = abstraction.” Lisa Gansky, Author of the Mesh

“Don’t just speak the language of facts but speak the language of possibilities.” Nitzan Waisberg, Professor, Standford’s d. School

“The status quo of comfort and convenience are our biggest constraint.” Nitzan Waisberg, Professor, Standford’s d. School

“As technology gets more efficient the behaviors of humans are becoming more unsustainable.” Nitzan Waisberg, Professor, Standford’s d. School

“Change is gradual and uneven.” Nitzan Waisberg, Professor, Standford’s d. School

“We need to design sustainable interactions.” Nitzan Waisberg, Professor, Standford’s d. School

“It’s not about getting to green but it’s really about getting to greener.” Nitzan Waisberg, Professor, Standford’s d. School

“Consumption is a design problem… Consumption is a linguistics problem Consumption has created more wealth than anything. We need to rethink the design of consumption.” Marc Mathieu, Founder, BeDo

“Design is a place where sex and smart happen simultaneously to brains and beauty.” Bruce Mau, Chief Creative Officer of Bruce Mau Design

“We need to redesign wealth… redefining and refining wealth… we need to redistribute access in new ways.” Bruce Mau, Chief Creative Officer of Bruce Mau Design

Bruce Mau is launching the Massive Change Network and the 10 principles are:
1) Purpose inspires learning
2) Worst = best
3) Public is perfect
4) Design is core to culture
5) Experience is doing
6) Renaissance teams are best
7) Real cannot be faked
8) Experience is content
9) Design systems not objects
10) The future will be beautiful (if we have one.)


The CompostModern Website

In closing, design change in your own vision and don’t be afraid to push the barriers. Not trying is the only way you can fail. The world is in need for a whole bunch of innovative solutions that encompass design solutions. But designers need partners to challenge and guide them to ensure implementation for a sustainable future.


  • CivicActions: Empowers social-change organizations with emerging technologies.
  • Visual Economics: Unraveling Complexities in Financial Data (and check out the best infographics of 2010.)
  • OpenCloud: Provides the telecommunications industry with a real-time Telecom Application Server (TAS) for agile development, deployment and efficient management of person-to-person communications.
  • Digitally Creative: Freelance consulting and development services that help our clients grow and improve their online business presence.
  • OpenStreetMap: Allows you to view, edit and use geographical data in a collaborative way from anywhere on Earth
  • Tomorrow Partners: Brand building strategy consultants
  • Living Principles: Guide purposeful action, celebrating and popularizing the efforts of those who use design thinking to create positive cultural change.
  • The GreenXchange: An innovative partnership that brings together companies, people and ideas
  • Cleantech Open: To find, fund, and foster the big ideas that address today’s most urgent energy, environmental, and economic challenges
  • Aspiration Tech: Better tools for a better world
  • Open Architecture Network :The Open Architecture Network is an online, open source community dedicated to improving living conditions through innovative and sustainable design
  • Next Agenda: Next Agenda is a startup media company that knows how to harness the best new media and new tools and apply them towards solving these complex challenges, both in a public sphere and in private realms
  • DocumentCloud: DocumentCloud is a catalog of primary source documents and a tool for annotating, organizing and publishing them on the web

Article written by:

Monika Kerdeman Shepard is the Managing Editor of She is an accomplished manager, strategist, designer, community builder and writer with a desire to inspire social change. Currently, she works at Global Integrity as Manager, Technology and Community, overseeing a web-based platform, fostering new partnerships, engaging the community of users and developing management and process strategies.