Ezio Manzini trained as an architect and is currently teaching industrial design at the Milan Polytechnic. His research focuses on strategic design and social innovation as a way of responding to the environmental and social challenges of the contemporary world. Manzini describes social innovation as occurring in the everyday as a response to social problems and often making use of new technologies that have not yet been absorbed into mainstream society. Here Manzini sees the role of the designer as enabler, who creates the right conditions for such creativity to emerge by designing systems and processes rather than products and objects. Scenario making techniques are one of the key methodologies that Manzini identifies for a designer acting in such a way.
Manzini cites many such initiatives, services that people themselves have created to make intelligent use of resources, including as time banking, carpooling, nurseries at home and restaurants in living rooms. Ordinary people create collaborative clusters around the need for certain services and the design of such strategies and tactics is what Manzini refers to as ‘service design’. For architects and urbanists this means viewing the city first and foremost as an organisation of people rather than the usual way of describing it as an organisation of buildings and infrastructure.
A grassroots project that takes a similar approach of ‘service design’ is the Maker Faire Africa project. Established in 2009 by by Emeka Okafor and entrepreneur and supported by co-organisers Nii Simmons (co-founder of Afrobotics), Henry Barnor (co founder of GhanaThink), Eric Hersman (co-founder of AfriGadget) and Mark Grimes (Founder Ned.com) and others, the project is an extension of the US Maker Faire magazine and annual events for DIY technology enthusiasts. The African version acts as a platform that brings together innovators from across the continent, with a focus on designing bottom-up technologies and and making prototypes that are useful for the specific developmental challenges of Africa. Working alongside local institutions, their main partner is Ashesi University College in Ghana, Maker Faire Africa’s main task is to provide the infrastructure to supports local innovation through organising annual events, offering a match-making service for designers on their website and raising money for and awareness of local talent. This approach of combining vernacular and craft techniques with new technologies is similar to that adopted in India by Sanjeev Shankar and by Anna Heringer in her work in Bangladesh.