What [ URGENT ] Matters? / Round 1
Updated: Jan 18
Welcome back NextD Journal readers! Happy to say a turn of the season, autumn weather is arriving in forever adaptable New York City! So much has 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.
Swimming in this subject material for many years we still often do see issues bubbling up in the main stream media and in the marketplace that we would like to respond to, create alternative perspectives on. An article appearing recently in Fast Company entitled "32 experts on the most urgent matters facing design today / Designers from Google, Microsoft, Nike, Pentagram, and more weigh in" appeared, from our perspective, to be an ideal candidate for the creation of alternative perspectives sharable with our readers and so here we are!
In this Round 1 we are sharing a first set of responses from 20+ 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. 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.
Round 1 Question: What are the most urgent matters facing design today?
Invited Round 1 Contributors: (in alphabetical order) Charles Black, Mark Bradford, Daniel Engelberg, Jeanine Guido, Mani I, Isabel Ines, Robert Jacobson, Peter Jones, Greg Judelman, Lorraine Justice, Paul Kahn, Piotr Kulaga, Terence Love, Sunil Malhotra, Charles Mauro, Praveen Nahar, Elizabeth Pastor, Tiiu Poldma, Rebecca Taylor, Kristel Van Ael, GK VanPatter, Rob Waller and Richard Saul Wurman.
Leader, Advisor, Futurist
Co-Founder Xundis Global
Far too often technologic inventors, especially Big Tech, play the role of designer with an unfortunate bias to create marketable solutions to symptomatic social problems without a deeper understanding of their consequences. Given that technology is human created it therefore is not a neutral object, rather a catalyst for planned or unanticipated social, economic and political transformation.
Design must recognize and address the transformational power emergent from technology and its intersection with diverse societies. Today and tomorrow’s challenges demand more introspection, reflection and foresight about the wide range of downstream social consequences of our designs.
Senior Lecturer: School of Design, Massey University,
Ngā Pae Māhutonga Wellington School of Design
Wellington, New Zealand
In my opinion, the single most urgent matter facing designers today is the ‘climate emergency.’ It’s very clear that the catastrophic changes taking place in the world’s climate are no longer a future problem. Designers need to tackle these challenges now. However, how can we, as designers in a world of more than 7 billion, hope to change anything? If we want to change the world, we must first understand what drives us, and this ‘sense of purpose’ is something all reflexive designers can cultivate.
From an intrinsic motivation perspective, essentially, it’s the difference between what we as designers can do or will do to respond to the ‘climate emergency.’ As a designer, my practice is guided by the Japanese martial art of Aikidō philosophy of ‘aiki’: a ‘way’ of being more ourselves, sensing how we move through the world, and how we interact with others.
This perspective requires different forms of leadership for designing – approaches that move the focus away from individual “heroic” designers and toward more relational processes which co-create leadership and offer new understanding, knowledge and orientation.
An awareness of our common future demands a participatory mindset embracing openness and partnership and welcomes the emergence of new process languages for working better collectively with others in redefining designing.
Designers must reflect on how they move through the world, navigate the sensory interdependence of the body-mind-environment, while acknowledging that, with sensing the world, comes a responsibility when designing possible futures. Small gestures can set bold ideas in motion. Every day matters!
Coach, Change Agent, Consultant
Founder, Advanced Applied Thinking
The most urgent matters facing design are methodological and educational.
Many designers are still trying to address complex problems and innovation as if they’re deterministic. We have to make that mindset shift.
Designers increasingly address complex problems, but they aren’t given training to understand what causes complexity and how to dissolve complexity. There’s a lot to discover.
Designers often try to address systemic issues, but they don’t learn systems thinking, systems theory, systems dynamics. So their solutions sometimes miss the mark.
Designers are rarely allowed to think or act at a systemic level. To address problems systemically, you have to step up from the solution level to the problem definition level.
Design is 50% methodology and 50% thinking skills. Thinking skills are even more important for highly complex problems. But we don’t train designers in thinking skills.
If designers want to be problem solvers, it would help to learn problem solving. Problem solving goes beyond any one field. It’s a meta-skill.
Design has a specialized component and a transdisciplinary component. But schools and organizations keep trying to pigeonhole it as a purely silo methodology. If they understood its transdisciplinary nature, they would approach it differently.
Designers have to learn to be change agents. They go into the field planning to do design, and they discover they have to transform their organizations to be allowed to do it. It’s a rude awakening. Maybe we should prepare them better in training programs.
Executive Director Strategic Design, North America
Corporate Investment Bank
New York, NY, USA
Envisioning new worlds devoid of waste and pollution, making biodegradable products based on need not on want, creating systems in which we are one with nature, are the type of lofty goals design should stand behind. Such goals will undoubtedly spawn the birth of new industries, sources of income and whole new economies, even much needed evolved/new political and social systems. Thinking big is exciting! What I’ve learned is that design, as a way of thinking, not just the practice, will have a far greater impact on this transformation and beyond.
Being curious, empathic, flexible, collaborative, open, creative, comfortable with the unknown are human traits used in design as foundation to even begin to tackle all those juicy problems we have in front of us. When I entered the non-design world, I experienced how little if at all these human traits were evident in most people; most still don’t even understand what they mean. We are living the calamitous consequences of their absence but to acquire them, let alone apply them, takes first becoming aware as individuals and then as individuals within a community.
We need to remake ourselves into different beings, once that happens, the world takes on an entire new color. Only then will we be able to solve our current problems and create a new world.
Business I UX I Service Design I Strategic Foresight
Ethical & Sustainable Business Practices
London, United Kingdom
Design Ego is by far the biggest challenge we face as a profession.
Current state design thinking, is based on solving a very singular problem, in the quickest and most effective way possible. The trouble is, in the quest for efficient and immediate impact, we focus too closely on the part we often neglect all of the secondary problems caused by these ‘solutions’ in the whole.
A glass bottle is a great example of an effective human centered design, it holds the right amount of liquid, is sturdy, keeps the contents fresh. All good right? Job done! Not really.
The damage on the landscape of the mining minerals, the thousands of miles materials had to travel, and the masses of carbon pumped into the atmosphere in its creation? The fact that it will either stay in it’s environment for many thousands of years without being reabsorbed back into the earth? Even if it is recycled, the massive amount of carbon pumped back out into the atmosphere in that process?
Digital products are the same “Delightful Experiences” is often a synonym for “hacking Dopamine receptors in brains, to create addicts”.
Design / design thinking in it’s current state, is a massive noose around our necks, and it will choke our planet to death pretty soon if we don’t take action.
First we need to acknowledge we were wrong, getting past our own design egos. Then, collectively, we must evolve our design processes, take the whole into account, and create accountability for where our designs end up, and how they affect others.
Captain at La Nave Nodriza (Mothership)
Designer at ilios
Modern day living has brought about great transformations in the way in which we live: complex technologies, overcrowding, fragmentation of relationships and other changes have left people feeling somewhat lost along the way.
I understand Design to be a salve against the frictions of modern day life, and the need to apply it to everything we create: from pixels to spaces, from services to narratives, from schools to museums, from banks to artisan associations.
Innovation is the engine of change, design is the compass and the north is the wellbeing of people and the planet. Our role as designers, is to take modern products, services and processes and transform them into better human companions.
We have spent decades designing ways to improve people's experiences through careful observation of how they interact with their environment, technology, products and services.
Our challenge is to design projects that are human in scale, considered and considerate in function, and infused with purpose, that are better for users, better for business and better for the planet.
We know how to do it, we can do it, and we must do it. The time is now to design a better, easier, fairer and more beautiful world.
President and Strategist
Designing Desired Futures
Patagonia, Arizona, USA
Design thinking can often devolve into design overthinking, putting the process ahead of the purpose, resulting in a starchy product that's often cause for yet more design thoughts. For those who are unaware or whose knowledge is ahistorical, "design thinking" has ignoble roots -- basically, as a justification for designers formerly consigned to noodling with magic markers, creating sketches of nonexistent objects and places, and flow charts, to have a larger hand in the operations of the agencies and businesses that employed them.
In part this reflected a desire to better the services and/or products delivered, in part the designers seeking job security, and in part the need of those who employed them to seem in on a secret knowledge that elevated them above their managerial peers.
In fact, as the most honest designers and those who write and speak about them confess, designing and thinking are pretty much one and the same. Each can be clarifying, each can be befuddling.
What sets apart designers -- and this is no small feat -- is their ability to convey, in pictures, song, and actions, concepts and realities deserving our attention that otherwise will be given short shrift, lost in the blather of our over-informative culture of self-promotion and organizational one-upsmanship.
The challenge is for designers and those who think about the world from a design perspective is to avoid being swallowed up in self-promotion and remember that design thinking -- design design -- must not become an end in itself, ever.
There are good reasons for circling back to ensure that past designs are still producing desired results, but kundalini is not designers' forte. Above all, let's not overthink design. Spontaneity is as valuable as is intention. And the results often more miraculous for being so.
Partner, Redesign Network
OCAD University, Toronto (Strategic Foresight & Innovation)
Co-chair: Systemic Design Association
Author: Design for Care (2013)
Design Journeys into Complex Systems (2022)
Here I would say to the design brief “Does it have to be urgent?” The only single movement for which design ought to be urgent would be design education. Because there is such a lag from changing an educational system to its eventual impact, the case can be made to revamp design education for our complex era of science and technology change, and the system change that follows these advances.
I know social and political issues are the subtext of the question, especially after reading the Fast Company piece. I believe its exciting to apply design process into the roles of activism, especially if one is an activist. But I tend to think designers ought to think longer-term. Activism, even climate activism, becomes caught in the urgency of issues that often demand behaviour change. However, we rarely understand the behaviours of the complex systems in which behaviours are situated to make the best design decisions.
Instead of addressing issues that are framed by urgent people, a complexity-informed view suggests we act “sooner” on the levers for long-term impact. Timing matters, often. But urgency is an attention-demanding tyrant that often blinds us.
We have to remember that politics and media are the most powerful framings we encounter. In any design challenge, we have to retain independence from the challenge as originally framed so that we can offer a thoughtful redirection. Yes, the effects of climate, disease processes, the war industry, and neoliberal economies are critical challenges – but when we address the effects as urgent we end up designing for symptom relief. It shifts attention and capacity away from the slower, harder work at root causes. Such critical challenges are the outcomes of political and corporate collusion for over a century, and these systems will take long-term (systemic) design and planning to displace.
The tyranny of “urgency” narrows our long-term vision as we compress 10 year challenges into “accelerations.” Yet the underlying systems we might fight are deeply embedded in modernism, so attempts to directly produce peace, justice, balance through symptom betterment will fail us. What we might focus on instead is a transformation of social systems, organisations and places that have agency over their own futures. Design can redirect deeply pivotal activities – including activism where it aids, to move toward balanced outcomes in programs such as the SDGs. We might coordinate across the projects where we uniquely have leverage – and we can be “working together” in the same strategic direction, while working on very different projects and places.
There are powerful long-term solutions achieved by changing business models and redesigning large enterprises, such as the military and healthcare, whose affirmative changes could lead society. We can treat these social systems as culture, as creative social forms, and design artifacts, environments, and ecologies that revitalize culture for people. Once we recognize that institutions such as education or politics are essentially cultural, effective change becomes more possible.
Perhaps even the fastest return on urgency, that might achieve progress on “everything else,” might involve a total redesign of media organizations and information ecologies, backstage policy processes, the cultures of finance, and the corporate form and its normalized profit logic. These are high leverage interventions.
In the meantime, we can design for our communities and cultures, and their local economic benefit, for more immediate resolutions, relieving suffering and finding and saving vulnerable cultural legacies that such as in nature-centred placemaking, arts and music scenes, and hope during these transitions.
Associate Director, Design
Humans must change or perish – this is becoming increasingly clear. Yet just as so much incredible and transformative work is happening around the globe, we find ourselves watching helplessly as ecological targets are missed, inequality rises, hunger persists, and habitats are destroyed. While technological, business and policy innovation is critical, it may well be insufficient to drive transformation at the scale and pace we need to survive. How will we escape the shackles of incrementalism and accelerate change in the cultural, economic and ecological systems in which we live and work? This acceleration will require a paradigm shift in the individual and collective values that inform how we relate to ourselves, each other and our environment. While all humans are on this journey together, designers can play a central role in helping to facilitate this transition. We can shape systems, journeys, organizations, experiences, and decisions to foster new kinds of relationships. We can apply our tools to help focus attention and energy on problems that really matter. A critical enabler of our ability to design the outside world will be the redesign of the architecture of our inside world. With disciplined practice we can cultivate our intuition and learn to lead with our hearts rather than our heads. We can integrate our technological sophistication with ancient wisdom, gratitude and kindness. The next great movement in the field of design is part of the greater movement we’re living through as a culture – the evolution of human consciousness.
Professor of Industrial Design
Rochester, New York, USA
Many issues (climate, sustainability, racism, disasters, etc.) can be addressed more fully if industry and academia work more closely together. No one has all the answers, or means, to make a difference in these complex issues but industry and academia can do a lot together to help where needed, anticipate solutions, and find new opportunities.
Together they can then approach the governments (US and Foreign) to improve policies. Working together on issues should be incentivized by all three: academia, government, and industry. When academia incentivized interdisciplinary work on campus (design included), we had many more meaningful and applied research projects, with lasting effects.
To have a real impact, and compete globally, we have to work together but companies must allow time for their employees to engage in these projects, academia has to reward faculty for engaging and the government needs to support these projects with seed grants, at the very least.
Information Designer, Author
IRIS, Brown Univ./Dynamic Diagrams/Kahn+Assoc/Mad*Pow
Essays on Global Information Design in Nightingale
COVIC (Covid-19 Online Visualization Collection)
As I teach, the most urgent task is finding ways to use design practice and design history to engage and empower students. Young designers face the challenge of mastering craft and integrating techniques associated with disciplines as diverse as ethnic studies, cognitive psychology, graphic methods, and statistical analysis.
Motivating the practice requires a sense of empowerment, a belief that design practice can express and rebalance “my” rapidly changing world.
We can set out on this path by expanding the appreciation of information design from many cultures and time periods. That path can lead to a vision of the broader patterns that connect the systems we are already part of.
Systemic UX Strategist & Designer
From my perspective, the key “matters facing design” revolve around the contemporary inclination to take one’s role too seriously, a Machiavellian sense of vocation so to speak, or what Charles Mauro referred to as “virtue-signalling” in his critique of this paradigm. Particularly noteworthy, in context of design practice, is a tendency for cliché pronouncements, usually no more concrete than mission statements in the ‘wellbeing’ industry. The grandstanding poise is often entwined in 'techno capitalism’, exploitative schemes misrepresented as do-gooder initiatives. While the zeitgeist of design in past epochs may have occasionally reached a counterproductive level of ‘cool’, most of its heroes remained sober enough to think of design as a job. Of late, design seems to be framed as a calling to make a better world. Unfortunately, the current response is too often to create one useless widget after another. Ironically, the COVID pandemic proved to be an acid test for the hyperbole paradigm; talking-up mediocrity awash in superlatives. Frankly, beyond heroics of healthcare workers, the only ‘awe’ we've witnessed in 2020 was the push to turn an idea knocked about for over 30 years into working mRNA vaccines. Sadly, much of the overrated '21st century tech’, be it AI, VR, AR etc. didn't cut it in a market of real and present needs. Perhaps it is time to turn off the overly excitable “influencers" and allow some more sober legacy opinion-makers to take a turn, if only for sake of the perverse dignity in techno skepticism.
Beaconsfield, Western Australia
The two most urgent issues to resolve in design that I see are:
The widespread lack of awareness by designers that all human cognition is strictly bounded in its ability to accurately predict outcomes of complex situations. If outcomes cannot be accurately predicted then the designer is guessing rather than designing.
Another aspect of this limit to cognition is that people (including designers) delude themselves into believing they can understand when they can’t. Even more, participatory design doesn’t help.
The second part of the problem is the need for designers to be trained to know when it is essential to use mathematical modelling rather than doing design in mind or by discussion with others because the design situation is too complex to prediction outcomes in mind.
CEO & Founder, Ideafarms
Design from Emerging Futures Co-author of Yoga: The Mind of Artificial Intelligence
New Delhi, India
Design is an integral discipline which has subordinated itself to serve the interests of consumerism. Design stakeholders chose commerce over conviction, which degraded its status from being a discipline to becoming a profession.
Design education is itself industrialised, and accords top priority to business, to the exclusion of all other stakeholders. And it is taught upside down—hierarchy is Planet over People over Profit and not the other way around.
The power that design packs is borne out by, “everything that is right or wrong with the world is the outcome of something designers did or didn't take into account.”
The job of design is first to understand and then to:
conjoin culture and nature holistically, anchor Art and give wings to Science, and solve every problem without creating externalities.
What plagues design?
Anthropocentric mindset of extreme self-interest which has led to resource-extractive, doing culture.
WEIRD paradigm Western(ised), Educated, Industrial, Rich, Democratic (Yuval Harari) skew to design terminologies, philosophies and methods.
No language for design value measurements.
Slumdog Millionaire effect in design journalism, which has been largely West-centric interspersed with ‘emotive’ stories from other parts of the world for effect.
Reductionist thinking makes it vulnerable to the codification and quantification trap of business accountants.
Positioning of design as an art-led profession relegates it to right-brain thinking, not systemic thinking.
No organized advocacy thereby lending multiplicity of interpretations to the whim of the beholder.
Portfolio stardom quest as individual designers compete against each other for money and fame.
Strategic Design Research
New York, USA
DESIGN as a professional discipline will have almost no positive impact on actual complex problem resolution without a major rethink of where DESIGN expertise actually fits in the problem space.
My entire point of view on this subject at this time can be found here.
There are many emerging challenges in the twenty-first century that need urgent addressing. This includes slowing down the ecological crisis, redefining the economy to make business sustainable and value oriented, shaping future cities and better public service, negotiating the binaries of global and local, managing ethical impact of technology on society, creating a resilient equitable society.
The ecological crisis in the global south is coupled with aspirational needs of progress in the future cities and quality of life for a rapidly growing population. The economic growth is burdened with permanent and seasonal migration, as well as issues of sustainability. The ethics of technological access and control in socially and culturally diverse and economically different populations.
Design can no longer have off-the shelf solutions for the distributed worlds we are in. Design intervention on the relevant and appropriate scale, time, and place is the biggest challenge for design in the global south. Designers will have to consciously value relevance, equity and inclusion in their contextual approach and outcomes.
The context of this world is changing, and these changing societal trends are creating new innovation spaces. Design has an important role to play in visualising alternative future narratives that provoke, question and seek collective action to realign socio-technical systems.
Over time, designers may have to adapt to transitional practices to explore expanded notions of design and its fields of practice, giving designers newer opportunities and multiple roles to play. It would also mean that design needs to adapt to change to remain relevant to the changing world which requires Shift from discipline centric mindset to challenge centric mindset; acquire transdisciplinary Skill sets; Embrace diversity, equity and inclusion.
SenseMaking for ChangeMaking
CoCreator: Complexity Navigation Program
CoAuthor: Innovation Methods Mapping
New York, USA, Madrid, Spain
There are so many emerging complex and crucial challenges today, such as climate change, systemic racism, polarization, mental health, overconsumption, etc. to state only a few… and they keep on coming. Can designers participate in addressing them in a serious way? Yes, if they are interested in moving beyond the assumptions of product, service and experience design. This arena might not be suited to or of interest to all designers - and that is ok. We just need to be clear in what we want to and are equipped to work on. For those oriented in this direction, the central challenge is adapting to the new landscape of fuzzy complexity and its many implications.
Design as SenseMaking versus Design as Differencing is essential to work on complex, fuzzy, undefined situations. From my perspective, traditional design tools and methods are not generally well suited to this upstream terrain. Things are changing, which is good, but we still have a way to go.
The integration of visual sensemaking combined with advanced framing / process navigation skills are key ingredients for today and the road ahead for more strategic and unframed work. Sensemaking has a rich, diverse history that the emerging design for complexity practice community continues to build upon.
The rise of the importance of sensemaking beyond data visualizations is particularly noteworthy. It is a rise that has impacted the boundaries and priorities of what design now is and does in more strategic and complex contexts. We teach these skills to organizational leaders, facing VUCA, as part of our Complexity Navigation Program.
School of Design
Faculty of Environmental Design
Author: Meanings of Designed Spaces
Having been teaching in design schools for many years I am of two minds on this question. In a sense I think that one of the most urgent matters facing design is to remain true to who we are and what we do as designers – to do what we do to envision realistic futures that offer real solutions for peoples’ lived experiences in a world under stress. The particular theory-into-practice that designers embrace, the “thinking as doing” that we do, and the capacity to envision better future possibilities are, I believe, still core fundamentals of designing. Other disciplines are not oriented in this way.
On the other hand, I can see significant challenges for many design education institutions to adapt to the complex challenges that students seem eager to tackle. This is the dilemma that much of graduate design education faces today and I am happy to be among those recognizing need for and advocating change. To bridge the two worlds of holding onto the best of what we have, while acknowledging need for change is something many educators struggle with including myself. I am always happy to link up with other teachers of design who are facing similar situations and are so inclined. I would love to hear from other educators regarding how they are bridging that dichotomy.
Since I wrote a book on the subject I am well aware that there are things we know and don't know about tackling issues in the new post-covid era landscape of societal complexity.
Programme Leader & Academic Lead MA Europe Hyper Island: Rise to the Challenge
Manchester, United Kingdom
My brain hurts when I think about the urgent matters facing the world let alone those facing ‘design’. I believe urgent matters certainly face humanity, face individuals, face businesses, face communities.
Those with a sense of urgency to do something are, I believe, the doers and change makers who are motivated to address urgent matters.
However, I also believe we need to find a sense of purpose in gatherings where humans meet to explore design with curiosity and care in mind. Where there is time and space made to focus one another in dialogue there’s opportunity to more openly ask, ok so how and what is being done and what do I need to do?
Popularized notions of design, human centered design and design thinking surmise that current design methods can serve great purpose and clarity - indeed that kind of discourse can feed the illusion that design has the answers. Time and space to be curious about design is needed now more than ever but in itself is not enough.
What is most pressing is that we become hyper aware of how we are and/or are not equipped for the challenges our communities and businesses now face. Part of the mission of HyperIsland is to recognize that many could use some updated help in that equipping at this time of great change.
I sense another Q needs to be asked: How might we better equip ourselves to be as useful as possible, not just in helping to address complex challenges but also in stimulating and supporting others with mindsets and skill sets to face their urgent matters?
Partner & Designer, Namahn
The world is facing huge challenges and, we designers, are partly responsible for them. We make products and services without enough thought about the unintended consequences on the life of other (future) humans and the health of planet. We urgently must move open our thinking up to another level, the systemic perspective, and only from there decide what we should design. If done well the products and services we create can then become leverage points towards positive future change. We need to embrace complexity and add heuristics from other disciplines, such as systems thinking, to our methodologies and toolkits. We have to understand resistance from the system and find ways to change mindsets. Working with Ackoff ideas on idealized futures is one powerful way to do so.
We should also learn to play with the tensions and paradoxes in the system and use them to improve synergies between the parts in the system. An example is connecting bottom-up and top-down, thus creating reinforcing loops.
We have to be more ambitious and go beyond the sustainability status quo. Regenerative design is needed. We should question the paradigm of growth and dare to tell our clients that more is not always better. And last but not least, we should design with the stakeholders in the system, empower them with our knowledge, and deliver open solutions which they can self-adapt. Let’s turn design into the art & craft of sensemaking, not just for humans but for the planet as well.
SenseMaking for ChangeMaking
CoCreator: Complexity Navigation Program
Founding Editor NextD Journal
Author: Rethinking Design Thinking
New York, USA
I recognize an often seen triple-barreled question there. :-) 1. The rising tide of complex challenges facing our communities and the world requires new hybrid forms of cocreated intervention and engagement not seen previously. While many complex challenges are known; inequality, homelessness, etc. the vast majority of everyday challenges that designers and others increasingly face in organizational and societal contexts are fuzzy, unknown, emergent and thus require skills suitable for this context. The shift in fuzziness, scale and complexity of challenges needs to be recognized as well as the implications, many of which current state design methods are not well-suited for.
2. In the design community itself, there is a largely unacknowledged disconnect between design as philosophic rhetoric and design as actual methodology. The slow to adapt graduate design schools have been abscent from the job of making the gap (elephant in the design education living room) clear. While a relatively small, emerging practice community has, for some time, been hard at work reinventing designerly methods for complex contexts, much of the community still operates in denial that such change is needed. Many proceed on the giant (magic thinking) assumption that the skills for complexity are already widely embedded in the community, when they are clearly (skill-to-scale) not. Considerable friction is generated by the conflicting forces of denial/defense and acknowledgment/forward motion. It would not matter except that there are educational implications.
3. For the arriving new generation of eager graduate design students we have to do better beyond just telling them every situation is a product, service or experience challenge. They are rapidly figuring out that is utter nonsense that does not map to their aspirations. Tenure track often blocks meaningful, timely acknowledgement and adaptability at the institutional skill-shift, program shift and skill-building levels.
We must do better, smarter, if design is to remain a viable option. The hour for rethinking designerly methods, suitable for complex contexts is late and the clock is ticking.
Founder, Information Design Journal
Of course, the most urgent matters facing most designers include: ‘where’s my next job coming from?’ or ‘why do I have to keeping feeding money to Adobe?'
Like Hollywood actors and royalty, prominent designers have an occasional tendency to preach to the rest of us. Sustainability - wow, yes I hadn’t thought of that. But let’s check that design isn’t the problem as much as the solution.
If designers are going to save the world, perhaps they might look urgently at not designing. Not designing bombs and landmines, obviously. But also not designing fashion that makes you chuck out last year’s sneakers. Not designing software that renders your computer obsolete every three years. Not designing social media so full of spite, lies and bile that even if famous designers came up with a new solution to the world’s problems no one would vote for it.
Get a job that allows you to work humbly and with integrity. Remember the words of WR Lethaby that art is ‘the well-doing of what needs doing’. And stop calling yourself Chief Imagination Officer or shit like that.
Information Architect, Author (of 90 books)
Creator of the TED conference
Creator of the EG conference
Creator of the TEDMED conference
Latest book: Understanding Understanding 2017
What I have learned is that there is always a shitstorm somewhere. There is always an urgency in the air. There are probably issues and urgency in the dentistry profession but that's how it goes. When I first read the question regarding “urgent matters facing design”, the word progress came into my head, this desire for progress.
The road to progress is a happenstance of taking a certain fork in the road, by a majority of the people at certain times. A fork which can be right or wrong as when they choose a president or a dictator.
I'm not trying to be a Luddite. I think a lot of things are nifty. But "progress" today is focused upon being richer, or having more money, and having more comfort. "Progress" is something bigger.
In the age of energy, the most popular cars we're seeing now are Escalades. They disappeared for a while when we were trying to conserve energy, and now a little glitch in our values system has made the average car huge.
“Progress" is an electric car over a gas car. Perhaps. We don't know how we get that electricity, what it takes to make that electricity, what it takes to make a bigger car because you can.
My car has a booklet in its glove compartment that says it goes two hundred and eight miles an hour. I live in a community whose main income (this is an exaggeration) comes from people driving through the town at 26 miles an hour and getting a ticket because it's one mile over the speed limit.
I don't think except one moment before a TED conference when GM had (as they regularly did) taken over Laguna Seca raceway. I drove 127 miles an hour on that racetrack, and I was beyond terrified. There's no place I have to go that quickly in a car. Of course I certainly like faster airplanes because I don't like just sitting, and desire to get there fast.
It is quite amazing, the extraordinary things that got written, produced, painted, music composed. All when the speed of getting someplace or communicating with one another was magnitude less.
I can't imagine Bach on a motorcycle.
But we didn't try to make horses faster. We added two horses to the chariot. And then eight horses to pull large wagons. We took stagecoaches. And then quite early on, we invented the electric car. But there was more money to be made from oil. We had electric trolleys, but there was more money to be made from oil. We had a road getting us from here to there, but there was more money building three lanes, four lanes, five lanes, 12 lanes.. 15 lanes in some places in the world. With one person per car!
Rather than developing a sensible means of getting from point to point. Because there was more money in oil.
All those things really, really changed design. Changed the design of the city, changed the design of vehicles, our mentality, where one worked, what became valuable. And I'm not talking about the good old days and turning the clock back. I'm talking about various "forks in the road." Between quality of life and quantity of life. Which fork do you take?
Society tells us we should take the quantity of life fork. Two cars and two houses are better than one car and one house. More money is better than less money. Bigger is better.
Apparently, if you operate restaurants, elevators, department stores, malls: noise is better than silence. And loud noise, to several generations growing up now, is worshiped. Which mitigates against the quality of conversation.
It's just a fork in the road. That's all it is, is a fork in the road. Who is designing those forks? Who is designing the signage system, the wayfinding system in the fork in the road?
Oh, the wayfinding system is how to get through the mall and through the building, and through Hudson Yards in New York.. Sitting on the subway, getting off the subway. Designers are not designing those forks. Because designers almost exclusively (I could say exclusively) design what they're asked to.
And they're asked to by people who consistently are interested in the quantity of life, and it's increase. Which does cause more crime, more deaths. Higher temperatures. Bigger gaps between the haves, the have nots, and the never going to haves. And now a whole class of people who have too much.
I think it'd be pretty good if we dropped off the top and bottom of that chart, at least temporarily.
Unfortunately, we seem to often take what doesn’t work and expand it to more that doesn’t work…better versions of failures and gold plating them. Great design emerges from the land called zero - beginning again asking the innocent profound question not polishing the former answer.
That's my little schtick on progress.
End Round 1: Stay tuned for Round 2, coming soon.
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