Changing the World Through Radical Designs | A Q&A with Jude Pullen

30 January 2020

Imagine hacking prosthetics to give an aspiring hairdresser the possibility to practice his profession? Or reconstructing playtime for a child blind from birth who can play with his friends outdoors?

We sat down with award-winning Technologist & Prototyping Expert, Jude Pullen to talk about innovating and patenting with LEGO, Dyson, and Sugru, and how his radical designs featured on BBC2's Big Life Fix, and Sir David Jason's Great British Inventions are changing lives one idea at a time.

You’ve worked with LEGO, Dyson, Sugru and the BBC2, to name a few, can you tell us a bit about your journey?

I’ve had a pretty ‘eclectic’ career, looking back – but it’s felt (and still feels) very unplanned. I’d say I am guided by a ‘compass’ of values around craft, science, testing, experimenting, play, creativity - and of course working with people. I’ve enjoyed the detours and the journey as much as the end destination.

What is an essential toolkit for an aspiring designer?

I have given a few keynotes and masterclasses for undergraduates on this. I think much of design seems to be about being willing to go outside of one’s comfort zone and familiarity. It’s easier said than done - and it often feels like a gamble to ‘risk’ one’s career on a challenge that may fail, but I think to have gone through a tough process and have some points of weakness, is more laudable than to succeed in mediocrity.

The flip-side of this is that I also feel the next wave of students are the future, so I’d like to think I try to listen to them - not just lecture! Even if it’s counter to current culture – in a decade that will become the culture…so get the jump, right?

In Big Life Fix your design work radically changes people’s lives. On the other hand, you gave us some examples of how radical design changes that help our world are sometimes hard to implement on a larger scale. Where do you think the future of design is heading? How can we be more open to how it will change our world?

In the past I think it could be hard to justify a project which only appealed to a niche. Quite simply this was because a company needed to get a return on an investment, and if it had to explain a really new or niche thing, that was cost on top of risk.

However, since social media and platforms like FaceBook and YouTube have totally disrupted the usual communications channels, this has allowed niche players to find global markets, so the 'Total Addressable Market' is much bigger. Indeed, if one is not shipping a product, this is even more bankable, and hence the explosion in Apps as a branch of 'design'.

I feel this is one of the most exciting times to design for niches, be they special interest groups, people with disabilities who may not have been considered 'profitable' to cater to, but now can be part of a larger organism. Brands can hold multiple conversations and it can all contribute to their bottom line in direct and indirect ways.

In short, the future of design is becoming more open to novel ideas, and more easily adopted by larger corporations. We can see the potential of ‘niche’ design to change the world through social media/crowdsourcing ideas.

As a design engineer, you’re constantly faced with problems that need creative solutions. What are some ways that people can infuse an inventor’s creative thinking into their business?

I think inventors train a ‘muscle’ which allows them to suspend their inner critic. In engineering, ‘Red Teams’ are used to review an idea – and explore why it will fail. But the kudos does not just go to those who envisage the worst – but either solve it, or best of all – invert it to a positive. That agility of mind is something I love finding in other professions. As much as ‘outsiders’ in companies seem to come hard-wired with this, I think great leaders can be both diplomatic and disruptive – but with careful aim, and due respect for the consequences.

To give more practical example – I’d recommend training this ‘muscle’ with small / trivial projects, but which go public. I use Instagram, for ideas, or provocations – later these might become more substantial projects, but they always benefit from making something tangible and seeking feedback.

If there was one message that you would want an audience to take away from your talk, what would it be?

I’ve come to believe that story is as important as the work itself. Much technology has been ‘invented first by x’, but someone else made it into a bigger/more successful thing. Take Tesla and Edison for example: Tesla was the bigger brain, and better scientist, but Edison (for his many faults) was a better storyteller – and could engage a wider audience with a vision. I’ve worked in companies big and small, and although we’d like to think a great idea is obvious or sells itself, it rarely does.

I’d also say that by going deep into the other person’s perspective, I find that equally as exciting as the design process. I think it elevates the technical work and the resulting opportunity.

Finally Jude, what’s next for you?

I will continue to join the unlikely “dots” and be a practitioner as well as an advocate for cross-disciplinary synergy both within the design field and beyond.

Thanks Jude for taking the time to catch up with us, we look forward to following ideas and projects come to life online!

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