This piece was sparked off by this article that I encountered recently— “This Design Generation Has Failed”. Reading that first might give some context for the rest of this piece as it is an excellent read that touches on so many important points (though I partly disagree with the conclusion) and got me thinking about my own journey. I’ve been walking a similar path as this was the point had gotten to in late 2016, with a growing disillusionment about the state and direction of design. Many days of thinking about this is finally what led to my drastic move last year as I wanted to get into an environment where I can rediscover my core values in design. On one side I wanted to learn about how better to integrate ethics, humanity, intersectionality and sustainability, essentially a core set of unshakable values, into everything that was being done in design. On the other, on a personal level, I also wanted affirmation that I wasn’t alone in wanting this; that there was still hope for the world of design and especially designers.
I recall how, at the time, I was lamenting how, there are so many situations that you encounter, whether as a designer or when you see design outputs in the market, where you wonder if there was no one on the team asking “why” something was being done. Even in situations where that “why” was being asked, it was revolving around growth and profit, while ignoring the immense potential for impact that design has, whether it comes to society or sustainability. Sadly this “ignorance” was even true for most of the methods and processes we use too and I particularly remember this line repeating itself when I questioned what I was doing as a designer — “reducing clicks for profit”.
I had to question how and why we forgot about our potential to change the world for the better and why so many companies, entrepreneurs and designers seemingly have little inclination to do something for the greater good. This is sad because I truly believe we don’t get into design with the mindset of “how can I make the most money, regardless of cost or consequences”. We all have our desire to do something good and make a difference (while making our money, this isn’t a bad thing), but over the course of our careers (& even education) in such a tough, competitive field, we lose that somewhere. At this point, I agree with one aspect of the author’s way forward with respect to his point on oversight and accountability. There needs to be something that exists to bring that into effect, like maybe a common set of standards or ideals, like an equivalent to the Hippocratic Oath but for designers. However, I don’t entirely agree with the other two conclusions on educational autonomy and having a license to practice.
His argument on educational autonomy — while I obviously agree with the importance of design — I feel design doesn’t need to isolate itself to have the room it needs, but rather I’d want it to be identified for its importance within the existing educational structure and how it can incorporate so many different elements. Similarly for the license to practice, while I agree that “amateur hour is over”, the focus here seems to be on having designers getting certified and hoping that leads to them self regulating. I believe we instead need to be putting an onus on evolving the tools we use and the platforms we create to inherently support the things that we want designers to self regulate, thus reducing the need for it. We still have a long way to go regardless of what path we choose, and there still isn’t nearly enough discussion of how ethics, humanity, intersectionality and sustainability should be an enforced part of our processes and our discussions by default and integrated within the frameworks of everything we do (especially things like the business model canvas) but I genuinely think that’s the first step to take.
Thankfully, coming here to Helsinki has been the best thing I could have ever done in this regard. It has helped me reconnect with and reaffirm my core beliefs and has helped me identify something that truly feels like my calling. Being here has given me tremendous hope for the future of our domain and of our roles in contributing to the betterment of our planet (not just the people) and this is thanks to the incredible people, the atmosphere and the environment here. I believe again that our inherent empathy as designers can give us all the impetus to course correct and work towards designing for the greater good. And I hope to do all I can to enable others to follow this path and ensure it happens.