Hello World Part 2: An introduction to Public Design Bureau

Illustration by Ash Tsai. Learn more about our illustrators.

Hello World Part 2: An introduction to Public Design Bureau

Public Design Bureau gives us a chance to focus on work where our unique set of skills, talents, and niche super powers align with what leaders in community, non-profit, government, and social enterprise need to address society’s most pressing challenges.  

For us, design is powerful because it encompasses methods, mindsets, and processes that can be applied across many situations. . Liz often defines design for students as being about “offering a vision of the future that is better than the present,” where designers and their collaborators need to define what ‘better’ means. Traditionally, people have thought of design’s ‘better’ as being more beautiful or more functional. For us, design also means making things more sustainable, equitable, just, fulfilling, and meaningful. 

So why did we start Public Design Bureau?

We love joyful, scrappy creation – ideally with others.

At work and at play, we are makers. We love the challenge of turning this, plus that, plus imagination into useful and delightful stuff. Professionally, we were both drawn to design by its inherent optimism and orientation toward tangible creation and change. We love the process of imagining the future, and then figuring out how to combine all the pieces together to make it real. 

We’re good at making sense of ambiguity.

Sorting the tupperware drawer. Organizing a jumbled spreadsheet. Defining the shared goals in a room of disparate stakeholders. We’re good at noticing tangled messes and jumping in to figure them out. It’s part optimism, part patience, and part genuine curiosity to get to the bottom of things. Plus, there is something super satisfying in looking back at your work and seeing the now-obvious order that emerged. In our projects, we always start with lots of ambiguity—many, many more questions than answers. This is not everyone’s happy place, but for us this space of unknowns gives us the opportunity to go find out from those with direct lived experience and who are most impacted by the challenge. By gathering and synthesizing their stories, and getting their voices to the table, we help with decision-making informed by real life. 

The world needs to address complex challenges.

There’s a lot of room for improvement in the human-made world, and everyone can play a role. Design isn’t the best tool in every context, but where it is, we want to be there to help. Skills of design like visualization, group facilitation, and centering lived experience as expertise, are all crucial in addressing complex challenges. We think the best people to lead the way on societal change are those who are dedicated for the long-haul. For us, being consultants allows the flexibility to provide support at critical moments, while building lasting relationships across many issue areas. We feel especially useful at pivot points – moments of transition in organizations, companies, and collectives where a boost of creativity, alignment, strategic thinking, and community decision making can reap benefits for years to come. While our participation might be short in the scope of long-term, structural changemaking, you better believe we’ll be showing up to events, facilitating connections, and celebrating shared successes for years to come.

Where do you think what we love and what we’re good overlaps with what the world needs? Send us your thoughts at hello@publicdesignbureau.com or let us know in the comments below.

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