Currently when we speak of design, it is more important to speak of “how to design”, that “what to design”. This is why in architectural lighting design, as in any other specialization, it is important to reconsider the processes and methodologies of work.

Can we understand design as a strategic tool of a company? Can imagination and design help sell more and better? Of course, but we have to start from the beginning. What is design?

In the same way that the guru of marketing, Regis McKenna, said that “Marketing is everything, and everything is marketing”, we could say that design is everything, and everything is design.


Almost everything “artificial” that surrounds us and improves our quality of life has been designed. We only have to know how to observe. Objects, space, lighting, buildings, services, experiences, they are all designed. Design is the car that we drive, the clothespin to hang your clothes, the Ipad, the clip that we use to hold papers together, the chair where we sit. The truth is that never before have we accumulated so many objects in our daily life.


But we do an incorrect and excessive use of the word design as an adjective, distorting its original meaning. We are talking about “design lofts”, “design drugs”, even “design smiles”. Some media use design in a frivolous and superficial way, as an adjective, distorting and therefore devaluating its original meaning.

We should use the verb “design”, understood as the abstract activity prior to production, or as a noun, ‘design’ understood as a final result.

But, what would happen if we include the creative thought of the designer in the analytic thought of business schools? As it was mentioned at the beginning of the text, design can be used as a strategic tool for brands, helping companies sell more and improve their productivity.

Research, creativity and society go hand in hand in the new business models, because at the end it is  society, the user, who decides if something works or not. If what we imagine is not done or used, we do not innovate.

Therefore, it would be good to define now, what can be regarded as “co-design”. This project methodology, which is really not new, because we have always worked as a team, allows us to create value in each project, with information from the client, the user and from external disciplines that the designer chooses to utilize.

People talk about open innovation, co-creation and co-design and they usually mean designing with the client and/or user. But it is better to understand the concept of co-design, as the highest level of co-working (collaboration). The sharing of knowledge between different disciplines that usually turn their back on each other or simply ignore each other.

Applying the concept of co-design to projects means that the Architect -Designer is enriched by the collaboration of elements that traditionally were not at his disposal at the time of a project. The treatment of customers in collaboration translates into “active listening” of what the user needs and the client intends to achieve with the design that he wants to find and develop. This is the most effective way to detect specific needs that lead to the generation of new business models, where design is the engine to find new opportunities.

We have to listen to our client, but “the customer is always right” is not entirely true. This is also applies to the architect or designer. We need to engage with the customer in “active listening”. Therefore we have to be careful with the badly-used concept of co-creation (create with the customer). We should listen to the customer, but we must interpret him. The specialists should be the ones to face the white paper. When we go to the doctor, we do not self-medicate, do we?  It is the same here.

In this way, value is created in each project, with the co-designer choosing information from the client, user and other external disciplines to the design. In this way differentiation and exclusiveness is achieved, creating a custom made, unique and innovative style for each project and client. The co-designer should accrue less technical knowledge and should enhance his ability to connect with people; be some kind of linker. The architect- designer can be an HUB (connector) of information; an interdisciplinary and multilevel specialist.

Co-design is not a design committee. It is the need for all stakeholders to be involved, not just the specialists. This is the best way to learn, analyze and improve the work processes. A change should be considered and defined collectively before establishing and implementing it. In this way, the team considers the change as its own.

Almost as a conclusion and speaking of co-design, I would like to be able to enunciate three references to take into account. You will be surprised that they are not architects, nor light designers, and they do not even have a college degree: Ferran Adrià, Steve Jobs and Pep Guardiola. What do they have in common?  I leave you that reflection open. Because it is more important to have questions and know who can answer them, than to know the answers.

Now, finally, I leave you with a quote from the famous professor, researcher and scientific proponent Jorge Wagensberg: “To change a response is an evolution; to change a question is a revolution”.

¿Shall we revolutionize together the future of the shadow? And I say shadow, because without shadow there is no light.

Miquel Àngel Julià, Design Director of Grup Idea.

This article is a revised summary of the keynote “Co-design and light” given by the architect Miquel Àngel Julià, design director of GRUP IDEA at the University of architecture of the UNAM (11/10/2013).


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