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In step with these troublesome times, design — in all its disciplines — aims to serve a greater purpose in consumers’ lives beyond being aesthetically pleasing.

This story first appeared in the October 14, 2009 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

That was the word from Tim Brown, chief executive officer and president of IDEO, a global design consultancy, during a public chat last week with Bruce Nussbaum, BusinessWeek contributing editor and visiting professor of innovation and design at The New School.

Brown told the standing-room-only crowd, “Instead of always asking, ‘How will we make money out of this?’ we will be in a situation, whether we are professional designers or designers of our own lives, to ask ‘How do we make meaning out of this? How do we make knowledge out of this?’”

The subject of his new book, “Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation,” was a launching pad for last week’s discussion. The way Brown sees it, design stands to be a catalyst for change in relation to an assortment of social issues including global warming, education and democracy.

“One of my great concerns with many of these big issues, and global warming is the biggest of them, is that a lot of the debate is about what we have to give up, and there is not a lot about what we’re going to create,” said Brown.

Afterwards, Brown noted that fashion designers could be instrumental in embracing this new approach. “I see fashion as a great industry to lead the move toward participation and away from consumption. I think it will happen on two fronts and there is already evidence of both happening,” he said. “Firstly, we have to see closed loop production systems emerging in fashion. This means the use of renewable resources right through the supply chain so that energy and materials are not wasted unnecessarily. This may mean going back to more local forms of manufacturing to cut down the considerable resources used by today’s global supply chains.”

Brown added, “Secondly, clothing is an emotionally and culturally rich piece of our society in which many more consumers could be involved. Already we see evidence with the explosion of knitting and the success of start-ups like Threadless.com, where ordinary people are willing to invest considerable time into clothing with no obvious monetary reward but lots of emotional return. I think the fashion industry will have to figure out ways to be part of this new ecosystem. I expect to see lots of experiments over the coming years as designers and clothing brands explore this opportunity.”