The Icon 20/20 Designers: Ben Reason 01.05.09

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NHS project creating social solutions for MS patients

Ben Reason's raw material is systems. The initiator of "service design" company Live/Work, Reason is putting the increasingly influential idea of generic "design thinking" into practice, using it to try and solve 
social problems.

Reason set up the studio with two industrial designers to solve social issues by hacking into defunct services and re-organising them, linking them with others, or building them afresh. The studio represents the expansion of design into a new area, but although it's a relatively new approach, it's truer to the more traditional idea of design than many practices working today - to improve the way we live.

So far the studio has initiated a project in Sunderland to help get locals on incapacity benefit back into work. They built a 280-strong network connecting local employers with specialist carers such as mental health and drug rehabilitation organisations. Among the 800 helped was a former heroin addict, who thanks to a chat between his carers and some local employers is now a trained forklift truck driver. Another project was with Streetcar, a pay-as-you-go car-sharing service in London. While the idea was already in operation, it was down to the service designers to turn it into a desirable product and make it successful.

Service has taken a back seat to capitalism - but as our systems continue to dissolve into Pynchonian chaos, service design will be needed to make sense of the sprawl and link it up. "We want to get involved with things on a national scale," says Reason. "There are lots of things that are wrong and they don't have to be. A bit of design in organisations like the NHS is needed."

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Adam Laycock



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