Prof. Dr. Gesche Joost on design, SAP, Internet of Things, and why Germany is lagging behind its EU neighbors in the digital transformation.
Gesche Joost heads the Design Research Lab at the University of the Arts in Berlin. She is also Germany’s Digital Champion for the EU’s Digital Agenda and a member of SAP’s Supervisory Board. In this interview, Professor Joost shares her thoughts about design and the future of the digital society.
What is good design?
The power of design is that it can bridge the gap between society and technology. If you can create something simple, something that feels natural to people and that offers a wonderful interaction with the environment, that’s good design.
How important is design and user experience for SAP?
SAP should become more and more a design-driven company. It’s so effective when interdisciplinary teams work on future scenarios, future products and future services. This interdisciplinary, entrepreneurial thinking, coupled with design thinking, is a driving force for a successful company. I think that SAP’s first steps are really great, so my advice is to go ahead and be brave! Continue to foster this design spirit in the company.
You’ve been a member of the supervisory board of SAP for almost a year. What have been your impressions?
At first I was afraid there would be very boring meetings with tons of PowerPoint slides and dry, strategic discussions. But actually, it’s just the opposite! We have very lively discussions about future topics, what SAP has to look out for and how it should react. So it’s really inspiring. Another advantage is that I get to meet many different people in the company – from user experience professionals, to developers, strategists, and educators. Our discussions give me many different perspectives and help me understand the company and the community around SAP. It’s amazing teamwork. I am really positively surprised about my work on the supervisory board.
You work a lot with young talent and are at the forefront of design in Germany. Where do we go with design from here?
I think one of the most important trends is the Internet of Things (IoT), and we need to focus on its potential. According to Cisco, 50 billion devices will be connected to the Internet by 2020. Exploring and shaping IoT should be a major field of activity for designers and developers. If almost everything – down to our clothing – is connected to the Internet, we will have to create new forms of human-computer interaction. It is exciting and challenging to think about the potential future business models. SAP can play an important role here because everything will be producing data.
Have companies really understood the value and potential of IoT?
I think that big, international players, like SAP, and small start-ups have embraced both Industry 4.0 and IoT. But the small- and medium-size enterprises everywhere, especially in Germany, have not yet made the connection between their business models and the value of these trends. They do not yet sufficiently understand that the digital economy has value for them and will require them to radically change their business models. I think that SAP is well positioned to be an evangelist about the opportunities and value of data-driven innovation. I see a lot of potential for SAP to help companies adapt their business models and prepare their technical environments for success in the digital economy.
What has been your biggest take-away from your work as Germany’s Digital Champion for the EU’s digital agenda?
The EU’s Digital Champions address topics around digital education, the digital single market, and digital labor. Our vision is a digital single market not just as a zone of e-commerce and trading, but also as a community for learning and exchange of talents and job expertise. A main concern for us as Digital Champions is pushing forward the digital transformation for all the member states.
In this country, we have a specific German angst about how data is used. The attitude “Big Data is Big Brother” is very typical for us but is not shared by our European neighbors. It’s very humbling to learn that digital education in other EU-member states is much more advanced than here. For example, in the UK, Denmark and Estonia, they teach coding at school throughout the whole curriculum. There are wonderful examples from our neighbors, where the transformation to the digital society is more successful than here. Germany is lagging a bit behind. However, as part of this group, we can learn from our neighbors and create a common vision of a digital Europe.
You say that Germany is not doing enough to prepare children for the digital transformation. What is your recommendation to parents?
Since not much is coming from the German state, you have to do it on your own. You have to start a movement, put pressure on the government and consider good examples from our European neighbors. The bottom-up approach in Germany is very good where new grassroots communities are forming around digital learning.
A great opportunity to learn and get involved is Code Week. For one week in October, there are coding workshops all over Europe – including Germany – for kids, teenagers and families. This is a terrific way to get started!
If you could solve one problem of today’s world with design, which would it be?
I would address the issue of inclusion: how we can use technology to build bridges to people with disabilities, who lack digital skills, or come from different cultural backgrounds? The vision of an inclusive digital society fascinates and drives me. I think a designerly approach here could really change the world.
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