Was Florence Nightingale a designer?

January 16, 2009

October 22 2008: Mark Bostridge, latest biographer of Florence Nightingale, has reminded us that her genius was not her bedside manner but her metaphysical grasp of data. A highly perceptive ability to infer clinical knowledge from statistics – to transform patterns of numbers into a story – makes me wonder why Daniel Pink did not name her as a classic right-brain thinker in his excellent book A Whole New Mind (why right-brainers will rule the future. OK, she may not have drawn any pictures, but defining design in terms of image and object is so 20th century. Meanwhile in a nice piece of information design medical geography in the UK has revealed in pictures the UK’s major causes of death.Glaswegians drink themselves under the ground, Liverpudlians get cervical cancer and Londoners take their own lives when the metropolitan pressure gets too much.


Homebase is in trouble because more people are “hiring experts” to do their DIY. Will or will not the economic downturn force more people to fix up their own houses (and redeem Homebase) or are we so far gone in our dependence on services that we have terminally lost the ability to do for ourselves? It’s possible to construe all the Design & Society projects making their way into our plan as experiments to demonstrate how the processes and insights of design can make everyone more self-reliant; explorations of what is won and lost for society when citizens make more and consume less. Designers – ready to improvise, brave in the face of disorder, and optimistic about change – have a peculiar self-reliance and will be the footsoldiers.

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