What [ URGENT ] Matters? / Round 2
Updated: Aug 20, 2022
Welcome back NextD Journal readers! Reaction to Round 1 was terrific and happy to be adding Round 2 in this series: FACING DESIGN: What [ URGENT ] Matters? 2021-2022.
Series Origin: So much changed in the world in the last 12 months or so that we thought this might be a good moment to share with readers a little refresh of invited guest's sensemaking perspectives for those interested in our long-standing core subjects of design, design thinking, design doing and the rethinking of design for complexity…to continue this conversation.
In this Round 2 we are sharing responses from 12 cross-community professionals whose perspectives we respect, even if we do not always agree on every issue..:-) As a rather unorthodox journal we remain interested in authentic perspectives in this bumpy subject terrain. As the contributions indicate, the design community of communities is never in one place on any given issue, which in itself creates a layer of messy complexity for all of us to navigate.
Invited Round 2 Contributors: (in alphabetical order) Volkan Aşkun, Brett Barndt, Kathryn Best, Estefania Ciliotta Chehade, Steven Forth, Bernd Herbert, Alexander Lau, Arvind Lodaya, Ian McArthur, Lindsey Conner Mosby, JanJaap Rijpkema, Pascal Wicht.
Round 2 Question: What are the most urgent matters facing design today?
In today's world, however, we have to accept that it has been brought by people who have designed laws, administrations, structures and works for hundreds of years, and that designers in the same fields will design the future. In this sense, they have to decide what the new world will look like.
Today, waste, pollution, non-recycling of the produced things, not being respectful to nature, behaviors that will cause climate change, migration, discrimination, legal regulations protecting a coterie, gender gap, and unethical issues appear before us. The issues I am talking about are not local but global. For this reason, these are the common problems of designers from all cultures and geographies.
Design has great power in communication, and by using this power, they need to turn to new designs that will address these problems in a way that will change people's consumption habits in a way that includes both other designers and all societies.
As a result, I think of every design made as a footprint of humanity. In this context, I think that responsible, conscious, empathetic, collaborative and solution-oriented designers should always look behind them and constantly check what kind of footprint they left. In this context, if the designers do not design things that will be more useful with less things going forward, the aforementioned issues will exponentially affect the design world and the whole world negatively.
The only condition for a livable world is that designers maintain our symbiotic balance with nature and people these days, when we are in a vicious circle with so many designs triggering consumption.
Strategic Design and Management Program
New York, USA
A friend recently shared UK Guardian photos of heaps of unsold fast fashion smoldering in a Chilean desert with toxic dies and fibers leaching into soil and water. The article says fast fashion production doubled since 2000. Another news item says investors are buying up fossil fuel power plants and extending their shelf lives to mine Bitcoin.
This points to the most urgent matter facing design and all the other stakeholders:
What are the forces and system dynamics that continue to compel us—or rather the people who own the board seats, controlling stake voting rights, and signing authorities for debt from publicly-licensed banks and equity from shadow banks—to do something like double fast fashion since 2000 or extend coal-fired plants? What’s missing that allows a pattern like this to continue given all we’ve known for years?
The same question can be asked about every other globalized supply system.
Can design practice team up with other disciplines, stakeholders, and policymakers to see the system in new ways and design interventions that can shift these patterns? An economist where I teach once said, “We’ve never been to a design thinking workshop before. We write policy papers and journal articles and go to Washington to testify at hearings.”
What can design practitioners create with those working in traditional ways like public policy, law, and activism to bring these systems to life so we see missed connections and get more effective action?
Where we are located right now, in time and space, is fast changing, unfamiliar, unsettling and increasingly unpredictable. We are in the midst of a narrative collapse where many formerly stable systems and structures within our daily lives are morphing into something else, something emergent, the end form of which is not yet known. Sometimes it feels like we are living through a plot twist, the kind that many a great blockbuster film script has narrated. What is happening? What comes next? How might we escape? Is the ending predictable?
In the face of the unknown, perhaps we all need to draw some boundaries in order to have a sense of control over the world around us and within us. What is important for design is a temporary suspension of any zealous belief in designs’ ability to save the world, increase shareholder value or innovate our way out of this nice mess we seem to have gotten into. Instead, it is time to embody a different mode of being and to make a renewed and whole hearted commitment to the joys and unknowns inherent within the creative and alchemical process of design itself.
Designers can be key to unimaginably better lives, simpler ways, kinder companies and vastly superior co-created realities. But only if they are willing to embrace the bravery and vulnerability that are fundamental to risk and opportunity as we all, not as designers, but as people, muddle our way through this chapter of life. What is important to design is to know its place (dominion), its limits (boundaries), its potential (impact), and its power (spontaneity). What is important to designers is to shift into a revived self-belief in the creative process as we remember to trust the process – the process of design, the process of life - and quietly untether a rampant sense of positivity, a naively gracious sense of opportunity and a cast-iron vow to put people first as together, we as humanity enter the unknown.
In the face of current changes, there are readily available solutions to hand. But the realities we are being handed on a plate (the new normal, anyone?) are just not good enough. Do we really need or want a great world reset, a new global order of life, a meta-matrix of artificial intelligences that can mimic us, controls us and even dispose of us? Arguably devoid of human dignity, morality and sensitivity, many of these impatient futures are not fit for purpose. Is this really the best we can do? Perhaps the metaverse can begin to give way to the multiverse – not a singular monopolistic totalitarian reality but a symphonic and delightful array of multiple possible futures, perspectives, voices, realities and mutualities.
For design, things are starting to get quite interesting. For designers, stop aspiring to be somewhere else for a while (the boardroom?) and be here now, in the process of life as it unfolds. Your practical visions for a better future are needed more than ever. Navel gaze for a while if you must, to reengage a sense of curiosity, serendipity and play in how you design, create and live. And always, always remember to trust the process, redesigned if need be.
Post-Doc Design Strategist & Researcher
Center for Design | College of Arts, Media, and Design
During 2021, I was involved in different events, conversations, and research projects that shed light on some of, what I believe, are the most urgent matters for design:
Climate Change | Climate Emergency: and its effect on society.
Healthcare + mental health: a stressed and collapsed healthcare system and mental
health issues spiking, demand an urgent design focus.
Social impact and systemic design: addressing wicked problems with more open and
democratized design and design processes, diversity, inclusion, co-design and
participatory design practices.
Misinformation, fake news, and design for “healthier” social media interaction.
Ethical thinking for design, technology, and AI: ethics as a key component of design for
humans, non-humans, and the environment.
Experience design and choice architecture: designing holistic experiences, providing
people with more choices and agency, balancing digital and real-life experiences.
Employee and customer experience become fundamental for new work environments
and the economy.
To face these challenges, design needs re-framing. Designers need not only new skills, but new ways of thinking and acting in the “new normal” and the future. The need for multidisciplinary collaboration, conversations, and new language for tackling complex problems becomes critical.
Designers need to be lifelong learners learning from other fields, enhancing their own abilities, expanding their skillset, and boosting future cross-collaboration. This also means redesigning design and teaching designers to think and act as:
Ethical futures’ thinkers
Systems’ thinkers and “metadesigners”
“Scientists”, tech and digital-savvy
Facilitators rather than experts
Multidisciplinary collaborators and cross-cultural savvy
Problem finders and problem framers
Agents of change or changemakers
Value Modeling | Pricing Design | Skill Management | Agile Scenario Planning
Business Leader & Investor
What matters most in the design world at the present moment is thinking through consequences. This is sometimes referred to as ‘second order thinking’ and works by asking the question ‘and then what.’
As designers we need to take responsibility for the consequences of our designs. This goes beyond the first order consequences, that are often measured in terms of usability, goal achievement or value. We need to respect and explore the law of unintended consequences.
Think of the design of recommendation algorithms on social media. The first order consequence that the designers were looking for was to trigger an action (and to be able to count the person taking that action as an active user). Time on site, engagement, even purchase behaviors are also first order consequences. We now know that the second order consequences of this design are a narrowing of our frame of reference, and getting locked into bubbles of people and content that reinforce our current thinking. Extreme canalization of community and thought.
I used the algorithm example as the other thing that should matter to designers today is to think about design in the broadest possible way. There are many things designed, and designers, at least those with a broad perspective and experience, can contribute to their design. This ranges from systems of algorithms and data structures to organizations, systems of habits and how things are owned and shared.
As designers we also need to begin to design for multiple different futures. This means we need to adopt some form of scenario thinking. Our designs should be resilient enough to be viable across multiple scenarios and adaptive enough to respond to the scenarios that evolve.
Partner at PlanIT Ventures, Inc.
Strategic Business Design & Sustainability
Business today is talking about sustainability, making money leveraging what can be extracted in the short-term while trying to be the least harmful. Where is the design leadership that advocates for sensemaking in sustainability?
We do have the thought leadership we require to get sustainability started. There are suitable frameworks we can use for guidance. The toolbox is packed with systems innovation, research, business design and leadership approaches that tell us in which direction to walk. We can apply benchmarks to measure progress against our own sustainability goals. Most importantly, we need to learn to fail while getting closer to the sustainable outcomes we have set out.
The path to sustainable business design is to lead by example, co-create with competitors, work in multi-disciplinary teams, target ambitious change and practice until the outcomes make our planet and people well again. The rest (customers, employees, shareholders, nature ...) will follow.
When walking through iterative loops of testing viability (will it pay?), feasibility (can we do this?), and desirability (are we solving a real need?) we must embed sustainability (is it safe and regenerative?). These questions need to be answered positively for every stakeholder (inclusive to society and planet). This is the path of sensemaking.
Leaders must design how their purpose drives measurable results for outcome and impact for the flourishing of business, people, and planet. The goals shall be ambitious, the purpose of many businesses will change (for the better,) and many will pivot to a new path of value(s) regeneration.
Advancements in technology have created a world where wants can quickly be satisfied with a touch of a button. We see companies like Amazon, bringing the convenience of online shopping for anything conceivable; Google making information freely available at our fingertips; and Facebook or Instagram capturing the life stories of our friends and loved ones within grasps of our palms.
Yet, we are seeing even greater disparity between the haves and the have nots. The developed world has to deal with problems of food waste, where tons of perfectly edible produce get discarded, while in other parts of the world, people are dying from starvation. We have gig workers doing food and parcel delivery, rushing door to door for deliveries, yet barely making ends meet; while the start-ups of the same delivery platforms are flushed with investors’ cash and executives work from lavish offices with well stocked pantries.
I think an urgent problem that designers can work on is not just about creating new products, services and experiences, but about dealing with more efficient and effective DISTRIBUTION. How might we better distribute resources, energy, healthcare, nutrition, education, wealth, etc. to those who need them most?
Instead of just thinking of satisfying the end users with products, services and experiences, Designers can deliberate more holistically at a systems level to consider the distribution of their products and services, so that we can embed fairer, more equitable, more efficient and more effective distribution to create more sustainable, more resilient and more self-reliant societies.”
New Mexico (USA), Bangalore (India)
1. Mute the 'science' debate for the present – let design stay in the esoteric realm of artistry, ideas and imagination until we agree that we know better.
2. Rebuild identity, delinked from industrial production & consumerist economy – surely it shouldn’t be hard to relate design to fundamental human thriving and empowerment without the crutch of industry?
3. Diversify & pluralize to incorporate multiple histories & epistemologies; decolonize western-modernist hegemony – time to bury this vestige of colonialism for good and give non-dominant cultures leadership of the field.
4. Integrate with nature, evolution & ecology – to thrive is a fundamental evolutionary impulse for life-forms and technology is the means by which they do so; however, we need to re-learn to do this within planetary “limits” and bear responsibility.
Associate Professor [Design]
Faculty of Arts, Design & Architecture
If there is one thing I’ve learned working in China over the past 20 years, it’s that the complexity of our current predicaments cannot be easily understood using existing Western design theories. We know collaboration is vitally important but our ideas about Co-design and Participatory Design sit within long-established Western design histories that shape institutional structures and traditions, and limit design practices, learning about design, and researching through design. We rarely see reflection on the actual value of co-design to the diverse actors involved. So, deeper cross-cultural discussion is urgently needed.
Pluriversal design, where worldmaking means finding ways to ‘make many worlds fit’, creates opportunities for un-learning/re-thinking how design happens, opening the possibility for other possibilities – and making apparent there are many ways of designing. The actual value of co-design is not in bringing new ideas but in the joining-in itself. This makes the invisible visible, holding space for all voices, and re-learning as we participate. This is very different to the observational processes in ethnographic approaches to co-design.
In the moment, we can glimpse alternative ways the co-design process could go by letting go of any preconceived ways of understanding design we might cling to. Although entangled in questions of decoloniality/anti-coloniality, language, cultural background, and different understandings of design and terminology, these concepts represent steps, however tentatively, to find novel ways to address the complexity we face.
Successful pluriversal modes of co-design will largely depend on nurturing our willingness to be open to the unfamiliar – to un-learning what we know or think we know about each other and about design and re-learning how to work ‘together in the moment’.
Collaborator, Advisor, Contagious Laugher
Partner, Healthcare & Strategic Design
To tackle the many urgent needs of today – climate change, social justice, health equity and access to care, global inequity, and the list goes on – I believe we must continue expanding our notion of who is required in the act of design.
As a community, we’ve come a long way on the methods of user-centered design. We have gotten quite good at persuading our clients and partners to ask, observe, listen and be curious about what an intended user’s needs are. We take time to go wide and explore out of the box solutions, we winnow and critique our work as we drive deeper into real-life insights. Last but certainly not least, we are getting better at taking that creative thinking and applying a level of organizational rationale and business rigor to ensure that what we dream can be realized (though there is still work to be done on this last part, for sure).
Still, outside of the few, delightful instances, the work continues to largely be done by designers, in our own spaces and in our own ways, to then be “reviewed” by those who asked us to undertake the work. It’s not a bad way to work, but it’s certainly not the best way to work.
As trusted design advisors, we must push for significant and sustained participatory engagement from our partners. Not as reviewers of our work but as accountable teammates in the solution. Their expertise in finance, marketing, HR, sales, IT, R&D, organizational psychology, or even simply knowledge of the ecosystem they work within, should be non-negotiable inputs. We find too, that when clients are allowed the time and authority to work on the programs for which they are responsible, the outcomes are more robust, more thorough, and more likely to stand up in real life. It’s a win-win!
We will bring the best solutions to our most urgent issues when design is a truly co-created act – worked hand-in-hand with our client partners and the diverse and talented resources from other organizations, communities, governments, etc. who will inevitably be the recipients of our creations.
Is it that easy? Do we always have that luxury? Of course not. But where you end up depends on where you start. So, let’s start with as much breadth and depth as we can. Our design solutions will be all the stronger for it and the journey to get there more interesting.
Lecturer in Visual Design, Data/Information Design
Communication and Multimedia Design
Amsterdam University of Applied Science
Art-Director/Designer at Follow the Money
Owner at JanJaap Rijpkema Design
After a decades long interest in the practice and theory of design my perspective on the question of most urgent matters facing design today seems design’s inability to grow up as a professional field.
I feel that many of the proliferated people who call them themselves “the design community” are still dealing with the death of the formidable figure that was modernist design: its opportunistic idealism (hand in glove with the interests of industry) its shameless ambition, its colonial tendencies; its barely rational universal claims; its brutalism and ruthless creative destructiveness.
Dealing with the ghost of this looming figure could only lead to endless attempts to kill it (‘Design Thinking is alive/dead!’), inertia and apathy, or to the schizophrenic insecure and self-important need for prizes, medals and badges; the creativity of made-up design titles, endless therapeutic books about the state of design; the exploitation of the skeleton of its methods and patterns, and the umpteenth revival of its formal style - the minimalist black turtle neck of the deceased.
The offspring of (that) Design, whether it is rebelling, reinventing, referencing or reminiscing, seems unable to grow out of an infinite state of adolescence: self-obsessed and avoiding responsibility for, or romanticising its impact on the real world.
Design seems immaturely in denial about its implacable entanglement with the shaping of the modern world - taking credits for its merits but denying its complicity in sustaining unsustainable consumerism and destroying indigenous cultures. it seems to me design is too important to leave to designers and we need a broad discourse about the shaping of our world and our systems.
I only have approx. 250 words here but suffice it to say the time is ripe to be rethinking design, design thinking, design doing. Always happy to have conversation with diverse folks interested in this subject and I know, I hope there are many.
Whispers & Giants
First, I see too many designers brainwashed by the promotion of design thinking. Unfortunately, they end up practicing the marketing of design. In this cargo cult, toolkit fetishism and method Darwinism drastically limit their ability to overcome challenges. We need to have a conversation about the effects of promotional noise on designers.
Second, the design community needs to understand that they are part of the creative community. To address this problem, it needs to free itself from the straitjacket that the ideation phase is the only "creative moment" in our processes. When we have ideas. We need to teach designers to be creative in every aspect of the design journey.
Third, we must fight the meritocratic contempt of design elites who practice vertical design for "unwashed masses," "mainstream users," and "uneducated people" who are systematically perceived as clueless about what is good for them. It is well known in the design research community that the contextual intelligence held by people directly affected by problems is invaluable. We need to be more humble about this.
Fourth, I see many designers who are fascinated by social innovation and making a positive impact on the world. However, their knowledge of design is severely limited by merchant dominant logics and their ethnocentric worldviews. They end up approaching social issues with commercially oriented tools and western universalism that performs poorly on wicked problems. We need to equip them with a different mindset coming from social sciences, and with different tools.
Finally, we need to address how these problems lead to sacrificing depth of inquiry and breadth of imagination in favour of speed and visibility. This strategic trade-off leads to a failure to address the structural reality of the problems, and ends up rewarding "business as usual".
END Round 2....To see Round 1 go here.
Note: All contributions proudly reflect the contributors point of view which may or may not reflect that of related firms or institutions.