STAY HUMAN: Recap from the DOGA Conference 2019

Together with Bertel O. Steen, Eggs Design and Knowit we won an award for our work with Easly, a car subscription service for the future.


Photo: Sverre Chr. Jarild / Design og arkitektur Norge

Photo: Sverre Chr. Jarild / Design og arkitektur Norge,
with the infamous Michael Bierut from Pentagram. 

Last week a bunch of us were so lucky to take part at the annual DOGA conference in Oslo. The topic for the conference was “stay human” which is a theme that really overlap with our passion here at Scandinavian Design Group. And that is why we would like to share some of our favourite speakers and topics from that day. 


Using Plato’s three differentiating traits, Irena started her presentation by reflecting on what makes us human rather than anything else in the world: 

  1. The desire for acquisition of knowledge
    - we cannot stop inventing
  2. Propensity to become social and political
    - we like to work in packs and create social interactions
  3. Our souls
    - we all consist of our minds, character, thought and feelings

However, our souls are prone to negative and toxic characteristics such as greed, xenophobia and vanity. Such traits mean that we are constantly struggling between what is good for society and what is good for ourselves.

The three most toxic traits Irena mentioned are: 

  1. Greed: the desire to have more than we need, and have more than others. Each of us feel that we know that there are some greedy people amongst us. But, if we are to understand greed more practically, it is necessary for us to look closer into how we define it. For instance, in the ‘western world’ we are very lucky – you could say we all have more than we need. Does this, therefore, make us all part of the problem? ..and the solution?
  2. Xenophobia: is a social and tribal instinct in us that fears, and even despises, others that are not like ourselves. Where this occurs, cooperation breaks down on a massive scale, creating conditions for conflict, violence and war. Given this, how can we, as designers, help people find common ground?  
  3. Vanity: is a self-centred belief in our collective abilities or attractiveness that can lead to a sense of entitlement, stifling any ambition to break away from the status quo the collective have set. As designers and design practices, we are at risk of falling into the trap of vanity. How can we turn the acknowledgement of this risk into an advantage? How should we fight the status quo while recognizing that vanity exists in us all, both individually and collectively?

Finally, Irena posed a scary question -  if the pendulum swinging between our individual interests and the common good is weighted more toward the individual, are we then necessarily heading towards an apocalyptic future?


“The natural sciences look at how the world is.
Design looks at how the world could be. 
Design is about creating new futures.” 

Christian stated that design organisations, such as ourselves, have the very real responsibility of enabling cooperation between business and design for the greater good of society.

At the Danish Design Centre they too are using design methodology to solve “wicked problems”. Like them, we strive to create positive change in our increasingly complex, networked and turbulent society.
Christian also mentioned these interesting trends in government innovation:

  • From digital as add-on, to digital as default
  • From evidence to experimentation 
  • From nations to cities: empowering cities to take charge in the difficult challenges 
  • From innovation solutions to designing governance  
  • From national goals to global goals (UN SDGs)
  • From courage to future-making in leadership 

A very succinct concept from Christian that we found particularly poignant was his idea of DESIGN +: a concept that sees the potential of using design within other disciplines and areas of thought. He simply asks the question - “what are you going to + design with?”

Design + challenges
Design + open
Design + future
Design + ? 

He sees that there is an unlimited potential for how design - skills, methods and mindsets - can be used to accelerate positive change in almost anything that is before us. Be it politics, public governance, management consulting, foresights, new technology, AI, or anything else we can think of.


“The fact is, the poor don't become poor because they make bad decisions, people make bad decisions because they are poor.”

Maria Smith started her talk by reflecting on the inequality and the negative effects of how our current economic system has been designed - a system that is so dependent on the concept or conceit of economic growth. She went on to introduce the idea of “de-growth economics”- a new way to design an economic future that shifts our emphasises away from profit and growth toward solving the very real environmental and equality issues that are before us. In a world where we must transform how we live, even what it is to be human, maybe we need an economic system that rethinks the idea of what growth truly means, what success looks like, what a commodity might be, or even what money is? Food for thought.

Maria also raised another very interesting aspect to her thinking. Today we need to be able to support new motivations that go beyond money and power. Just like money and power are reasons for creating and celebrating beautiful buildings, we need to also support random acts that are expressions of important things about being human, such as free will. As free humans we need to encourage just doing things for the sake of doing things, and not always have some underlying larger purpose of profit, success or growth driving what we do. Maria’s idea that the more you can waste your time in some way, the better, is a liberating thought. 


“We are in a transformational period!”

In a wide ranging presentation, Indy talked about how we are in transformative times that is resulting in both positive and negative consequences. How, on the one hand, globalisation is making for greater inequalities, while on the other “beyond management” thinking is empowering individuals to cut out the middleman to become more autonomous and prosperous – “Uber did not cut the taxi driver, just the taxi office.”

His talk also noted that we should be concentrating our effort on designing systems that actually focus on solving the real problem, that naturally this is the most sensible and responsible place to start. To exemplify this he brought up the banning of plastic straws. As he pointed out, banning the plastic straw is working within the notion of the object, not the problem itself; it banned what is simply visible to us. This, he rightly states, is not focusing on the actual problem in hand. 

Indy encouraged designers to reengage with philosophy, posing the notion that we still need to solve many great questions, such as: 

  • What is freedom in an interdependent world?
  • What is democracy in a post privacy world?
  • What is agency in predictive economy?
  • What is work beyond humans as labour?
  • What is collective governance in an age of complexity?
  • How do we build the capacity for Social Innovation?

He believes that makers, designers and philosophers working together will be the ones to solve the issues of our time. 

If you would like to go more in-depth into one or several of the talks, DOGA has posted a video from their live streaming of the day: