Priya Prakash is designer-founder of award-winning D4SC – Design for Social Change – A London based urban-tech R&D company building nature based systems.
Prakash has been featured in IBM’s People for Smarter Cities, Sunday Times, BBC, Wired, Guardian, the Queen’s 2017 Honours list and in 2019 ranked no.3 in UK Tech by FT. Previously Priya led global design teams launching affordable smart phones for Nokia and was lead-designer / co-inventor of BBC iPlayer.
1. Best piece of advice you’ve been given
Keep asking – Why?
Most decisions are a derivative of today’s expectations. My approach is to ask “why” to get to the ultimate truth – asking why takes you to unusual and unexpected places which often have a deep correlation with the truth.
In the world we live, work and design for today/tomorrow whether it is shaping smart city technologies, urban mobility, responsible technologies, artificial intelligence solutions, they will reflect our mental models of our world.
We need to expand our world and imagination to human and non-human systems ie. nature not just machine, to vision holistic solutions. Many of our tech problems are social problems and social problems are tech problems exacerbated more and more by climate emergency – Finding a way to listen, re-frame, re-see and check in on one’s biases before creating new habits and behaviors with intended or unintended consequences, that impact society and planet for good or bad, asking “why” has always helped me delve deeper to uncover new unknowns.
2. Worst piece of advice you’ve been given
This is how it’s always been done.
Every industry defines it’s own way of doing things and is bound by its lack of imagination/vision to perceive opportunities to reframe its very nature/existence. To de-risk this, each industry then tries to come up with its own process to justify its relevance to maintain the status quo without asking why or seeing an opportunity/challenge at scale from a systems perspective to fully re-invent on a fundamental level.
As someone who has moved across industries from designing version 1.0 of BBC iPlayer to Nokia mobile phones to urban infrastructure platforms for cities – I have often come across each industry’s entrenched process/way of doing things. Whether its user-centered design, agile, lean, design thinking, Design Council double diamond, smart city pilots to prove your technical solution – unfortunately many times we mistake the process for the outcome.
3. What would you tell your younger self?
Treat life as a marathon … always choose the scenic route.
Life is not a 100 meter dash. Invest in your health, personal, professional, spiritual life with equal energy. One sphere of life cannot act as a credit for the other which is in debit. Continue not conforming to other people’s expectations of you based on your race, nationality, gender or age. Do what makes you happy inside and outside.
I still cannot help smiling when Mark Thompson the then BBC Director General walked up to me at the Royal Television Society awards and mistakenly congratulated me for winning an award for BBC Asian network when it was in fact for technical excellence for iPlayer iMP pilot. I would say to my younger self – to assume best intentions and find ways to bring people together. Keep competing with yourself – striving for excellence and a better version of yourself. And above all – Be kind to yourself.
4. What excites you most about the future of your industry?
Nature based systems.
Un-designing and taking back control of our attention. I am not proud of designing habits and behaviors I have contributed to which focuses our attention being glued to one’s screen.
Designing for post human holistic systems. Working with nature, machines and humans to create new anti-fragile behaviors and habits that brings about systemic happiness not just for humans alone. Thinking and doing long- term vs short term.
5. Who or what is your biggest inspiration?
I mean my mother and nature.
Also grateful to have been exposed to mentors along my journey who challenged me to think and grow in new ways. Some of them who have had a big impact –
@Gillian Crampton Smith for inspiring me to apply at RCA’s then Computer related Design course in ’99 where she was course director. She was judging the ’95 Apple Computer design competition where as a cocky 19 year old representing my Indian design school I gave back to Apple folks questioning whether our design solution for Indian farmers using distributed digital camera networks for pest detection in farms would break down as it could be potentially manhandled.
@Ben Lavender – inventor of iPlayer who believed in me to design the early versions as a 25 year old who didn’t own a TV nor seen Eastenders.
@Mary McDowell my mentor at Nokia who demonstrated how you can be a leader with grit and resilience in turbulent times with grace and intelligence in a room full of raving testosterone.