The world is changing faster than ever–socially, technologically, environmentally, politically, and economically. In the midst of these shifts, designers have the crucial task of thinking about what our future will look like and how we will interact with it.
Co.Design asked a handful of the 2017 Innovation By Design Award recipients and honorees working in technology, branding, experience design, architecture, urbanism, product design, and industrial design about the ideas that will impact the industry the most in the next few years. Of primary concern to many individuals? If the current trajectory of design will lead us to a better world or plunge us deeper into our pool of problems, redefining what “better” means, and taking a closer look at who is benefiting from design.
“Architects and designers worldwide are confronted with a very interesting choice: Borrowing Buckminster Fuller’s words, we could say that our profession is in between ‘utopia and oblivion.’ It will be oblivion if we continue focusing on minor aesthetic problems. However, it might turn into utopia if we are able to tackle the major societal challenges of our time, starting from the issues of equity.
“In order to achieve the latter, we will also require a different approach. I would argue for a paradigm shift from the ego-fueled visions of architecture of the 20th century to a collaborative, inclusive, network-driven process inspired by 21st-century, digital-driven trends such as crowdsourcing, open access, and mass customization. I think the architects and designers today are well placed to play an orchestrating role, what we could define as a ‘choral’ one: being the ones who can coordinate several voices, harmonizing them into a better ensemble.
“Designers should become what, in biology, is referred to as ‘mutagen’–an agent that produces mutations in the artificial world. Interaction among disciplines and people is crucial.”–Carlo Ratti, director of the MIT Senseable City Lab, designers of Treepedia
2. SYSTEMS THINKING WILL BE FOUNDATIONAL
“Our job as designers is to inspire the world to tackle the problems that, on the surface, seem intractable. If we’re only thinking about the short term, only thinking about shipping the next product, and not asking questions about the future, we’re not inspiring the world and that’s an important role. The problems are changing. The underlying technologies from which one can build solutions are changing. Machine learning, data, AI, and blockchain are getting more and more important. For design to be relevant it has to be as close to the edge of where technology meets society as possible.
“Everything we design has to be a learning system; it can’t just be an artifact. So much technology today makes it possible. Sensors, smart software–they learn about what’s happening, they learn what people are doing, and what their effects on the system are. We can gather insights about what the designs can do, and they will become more and more powerful in turn. Designers also have to ensure that the learnings benefit everyone, not just the corporations who build the code. Designers have to remember to use that learning to make the designs better. That’s the exciting opportunity today. It used to be a ‘one and done’ mentality. If the product didn’t work, you had to accept that. Designers have a reputation of wanting to jump from one thing to another; it’s inspiring and entrepreneurial. But as designers we have to find ways to find satisfaction in sticking with these problems for longer.”–Tim Brown, CEO of Ideo, designers of the Willow Smart Breast Pump
3. DESIGNERS WILL INTERRUPT THE CYCLE OF CAPITALISM
“Our current economic system is really at its edge. There are designers who don’t want to participate in it any more if they’re enforcing inequality and expanding on it. The design industry is part of the problem. There is an idea that we constantly have to produce new things. The industry is oriented around launches and designing a new one and another new one. A model of designing things to last is less lucrative, but we can imagine something that will work with the reality of the economy–something that will age well and you can love over time and is not the best on the first day out of the store.
“Shifting away from a ‘new’ mind-set to one of ‘necessity’ or ‘usefulness’ is hard because I think design–and I’m talking about furniture and product design and architecture–is mostly a luxury market. Our efforts as designers should be to create things that are meaningful for larger audiences rather than perks for a smaller audience. Design is commerce and industry, and it wants to make money. Designers will think, ‘Who am I designing for?’ It’s not just thinking about if you can realize a product and bring it to market; it’s also thinking about who will be using it in the end. There will be a younger generation of designers will become more conscious.”–Florian Idenburg, principal of SO-IL, architects of the Jan and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum
4. DESIGNERS WILL BECOME ACTIVISTS
“It’s becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the global challenges set before us. From climate change, to political and social unrest, to economic and social injustice, each of us has a responsibility to step up and consider how our design affects the products and experiences we create. Design can no longer afford to be used as an afterthought in any organization, and I would encourage all designers to take more proactive steps to redefine their roles beyond design to that of conscious and ethical decision makers. For instance, how do we design to remedy for the spread of global misinformation, or dissolve preset biases in our systems, or design for extreme weather conditions?