Design Leadership for Problem Systems

The full article is currently on Social Design, so first let me send readers to Joana’s stunning new design site.  Here I’ll recap the central theme of Design Leadership for Problem Systems.

The design industry grew rapidly in the 20th century, by satisfying the massive and growing needs of consumer products, industrial systems, and a business ethos of growth, fueled by advertising. (What is design’s future to be now that agreement about that ethos is changing?) I observe a significant change occurring in the language and outlook of people in the design fields, especially apparent in my adopted home city of Toronto. I see a new ethos emerging in this new century, one that stands on the shoulders of many who have long argued for systemic change.

Citizen designers and interdisciplinary leaders are guiding clients and peers toward sustainable design and progressively toward a social transformation agenda. And this shift in values (or the predominance of actions consistent with values) co-occurs with the devastating upheaval in economic fortunes among those heavily invested in the previous century’s perspective and commitments to growth.

Comments on the original piece suggested that perhaps I was too dire in suggesting:

Yet in the gritty reality of everyday work, the vast majority of working designers and design educators are training for, skilled for, and planning on a future led by corporate projects. Many of us owe our livings in a creative, dynamic profession to the overabundance of producing new things and marketing those things and services via every channel of media available. We might accept this reality as yet another dichotomy among those of our modern values systems, which indeed it is. Many of us love and enjoy the constructive and skillful work we do, but may not love some of the outcomes we are making happen. Yet I say we can find new ways to motivate and lead by asking questions, presenting alternatives, and designing social opportunities as we might create artifacts.

That may suggest those preparing for a future in the design professions mirroring the past are wasting their time. Yes, there will always be some great corporate projects, and post-bubble perhaps even our workloads will lighten-up some. But is this where you want to play? Can design education turn around quickly enough? When people say transformation is the next innovation, are we even in the same universe as the liberation movements of design?

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Perhaps I overplayed the point, but we do this in blogs to get attention from otherwise distracted readers. But indeed, as NextD has been saying for 5 years now, Design is Changing – Are You?   As some are just now becoming aware of the distinctions of Design 1.0 – 3.0, Design 4.0 as Social Transformation has just hit the street and is in circulation.

From a perspective of the emerging culture that is starting to show behind the messy reality, I see extraordinary opportunities for designers in the changing world. If we can acknowledge a historical shift is emerging, we might play contributing and lead roles in the next phase of history. If we don’t, who will?

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