Public Lecture by Andrew Shea: Designing for Scarcity

Home » Public Lecture by Andrew Shea: Designing for Scarcity


Andrew Shea shared that there are 3 main themes in his work.

  1. Considering scarcity
  2. Planning for scale
  3. Sharing Widely
"Good stories have a strong narrative. They vividly engage readers' senses and locate them in a place and time."

He reminded us to consider the impact for our clients or target audience and urge us to rethink the outcome for our tasks. Design writing helps to break down knowledge barriers and fosters a like-minded community. He also mentioned about the power of narratives and storytelling through design. 

The main theme of his lecture is on scarcity. Scarcity is the framing the challenge through the experiences of our audience. A scarcity mindset is to capture our mind and become automatically and powerfully absorbed by it — changing the way we think.

Tunnelling: is having less of something that you feel you need, and this makes you focus more on getting that, while ignoring other tasks that are just as important for us over the long term. 

Bandwidth: Tunnelling will reduce our cognitive capacity or bandwidth. This will lead us to be less sharp about those things we should focus on. 

What it mean for designers is that we need to understand the position of people who experience scarcities in their lives . This would allows us to build more empathy with them and build common ground easier. 


Andrew to shared some case studies on several case studies on how we can break down barriers and understand each other better. Some examples showed ways to reduce stereotypes, foster contact between children of different ethnicity, help strangers connect in public spaces. He mentioned how the designers can consider inclusive solutions by only making half of the plan, leaving the rest for the participants. He introduced the Triangulation diagram by showing how we can use an external stimulus to form a linkage between 2 groups of people. Examples of an external stimulus are benches, water fountains, public art and street performances. 

Scales & Skills

Mapping Scale & Skills
Example on how to use the scale

Andrew showed how our design ideas and interventions can be plotted on his Mapping Scale & Skills tool (download here). We can anticipate the impact of the intervention as well as the expertise needed. Designers need to know the scale of their projects to be most effective. 

Sharing Widely

Project timeline
Example on how to document your work

Andrew said we need to help others to learn from your work or build on it. He shared a template with us on how we can document our project in the format of a case study (download here). This could ease our process in communicating our project to our audience.