David Sless's Soap Box

David Sless’s Soap Box

In Australia we, at CRI used to spend January on holiday, enjoying the beach in the company of family and friends, soaking up long hot summer days. It was a time to catch one’s breath, let the adrenaline ebb, eat fresh peaches and mangoes, catch a fish and eat it fresh off the barbecue, sample the delicious oz wines, contemplate quietly, and engage in slow conversation…. No longer.

On January 2nd, we were back at our desks. Since then, only the bushfires dragged us away to protect our homes and help our friends whose homes were lost or in danger.

In part, we at CRI have no right to complain. We are the victims of our own success. Our Corporate Members—both new and long-standing—have invited us to help them meet some intriguing challenges. And everyone wants us to do it quickly. So we are very busy. But, despite such success, the need remains for quiet contemplation, the slow conversation that meanders, returns on itself, and moves on to destinations unknown. I miss these things at this time of year, so I am using my little space here to share with you a few still moments before returning to the adrenaline-charged demands on our time.

In February I’ll be on one of my short (three weeks) overseas trips, this time to the UK and USA. On such trips, I’m an ambassador for our work here in oz. In that capacity, it would be very easy to claim that the success we have had—the success that enables me to travel round the world and share our work with others—is due entirely to our own unique talents, but that would be misleading. In truth, we owe a great deal to the support we have had from people working in our Corporate Member organisations: people who are committed simply and straightforwardly to helping other people.

Alex (Tyers) and I were chewing the fat on this, just before Christmas. We had come out of a meeting with one of our long-standing Corporate Members, in which we reported on our latest research findings on some designs we had developed for them, and we had discussed with them the next steps and possibilities. In the meeting, following our presentation of results, we discussed with them a number of technical IT issues, some branding and marketing issues, and a range of other issues which we, in close collaboration with them, had to carefully manage and take into account in the next stage of the design. We were pleased with the outcome, and over a cold beer Alex and I mused on this success.

It struck us that there was one central issue we hadn’t raised: the people who would have to use the design once it went live. What struck us most forcefully was that we and our Member simply took it for granted that the design had to work for the people who would use it. This was never discussed explicitly, it simply permeated the conversation. It was a given. We not only lived in the lucky country, we also lived in a lucky design environment

As Alex and I continued discussing this, we realised that nearly every project we had worked on in 2002 had that quality about it. We and the Corporate Members who had commissioned work shared the conviction that our primary obligation was to the people—customers or citizens—who had to use the designs.

Is this sense of obligation a peculiarly Australian cultural characteristic? I don’t know. But I do know that without it we could not have survived as an organisation over the last 18 years. Indeed, we would have no future at all. I also know that many of my colleagues overseas speak of a much harsher cultural environment, far less supportive of this simple obligation. So, despite the fact that we hit the ground running at the start of the year, and still haven’t had time to pause for those meandering summer conversations, I find myself taking on my ambassadorial role with renewed vigour, not just on our own behalf, but also in praise and thanks to the cultural environment that sustains us.

Your thoughts?

If you would like to share your own meandering thoughts, please do. I cannot promise to reply, but I will try.