Oct 24, 2008

Exclamation complexity

There are many things wrong with design in our world, but designers, as a group of people, are not the problem. Thirty years ago, in Design for the Real World, Victor Papanek observed that “there are professions more harmful than design–but only few”. This kind of blaming and shaming is counterproductive and unjustified. The world contains its share of selfish and incurious designers, of course. But no designer that I ever met set out to wreck the planet, force us to eat fast food, or make life miserable. Our dilemma is that small design actions can have big effects — often unexpectedly — and designers have only recently been told, with the rest of us, how incredibly sensitive we need to be to the possible consequences of any design steps we take.
Another reason not to blame designers for our ills is that many of them are working hard, right now, to fix them. They are designing new services and systems that are radically less environmentally damaging, and more socially responsible, than the one we have know. (…) But the challenges and opportunities that face us will not be solved by designers acting on our behalf. On the contrary: As we suffuse the world with the complex technical systems — on the top of the natural and social systems already here — old-type top-down, outside-in design simply won’t work. The days of the celebrity solo designer are over. Complex systems are shaped by all the people who use them, and in this new era of collaborative innovation, designers are having to evolve from being the individual authors of objects, or buildings to being the facilitators of change among large groups of people.
Sensitivity to context, to relationships, and to consequences are key aspects to the transition from mindless development to design mindfulness. (…) Design mindfulness involves a determination to:
- Think about the consequences of design actions before we take them and pay close attention to the natural, industrial, and cultural systems that are the context of our design actions;
- Consider material and energy flows in all the systems we design;
- Give priority to human agency and not to treat humans as a “factor” in some bigger picture;
- Deliver value to people–not deliver people to systems;
- Treat “content” as something we do, not something we are sold;
- Treat place, time, and cultural difference as positive values, not as obstacles;
- Focus on services, not things, and refrain from flooding the world with pointless devices.
THACKARA, John (2006), In the Bubble – Designing in a Complex World, Cambridge, MIT Press [p.7-8]