How design can change the world | PDD

How design can change the world


on October 9 2013

In order for the world to evolve we as designers must set the precedent.

As an Industrial Design student, I’m relatively new to the design industry as a whole – 2 years of having my head in my sketchbook may have qualified me for my new position here at PDD, but I’m humble in the knowledge that I have very far to go. I like to think I have a solid foundation for my own personal interpretation of ‘how to design’; something my university can definitely take credit for. So what is my interpretation? Well, I’m an avid believer that design as an industry is transcendent – with each new graduate comes a flurry of further knowledge, further interpretation that can either build upon a pre-existing theory or completely revolutionise our thinking.

There have been quite a few examples through history; Henry Ford introduced mass manufacturing, Dieter Rams with clean design, Chris Bangle and deconstructivism and more recently the ‘Apple revolution’. These are examples of definitive moments in broader design history, but (through disregarding some of Dieter Rams’ views) they have all encouraged the expansion of consumerism. You may have just clicked as to what this blog post is discussing…

Caption: Chris Bangles idea of deconstructivism is now widely utilised within much of the automotive industry. Featured image credit: MarkyDMan  and above image credit: BWM

Part of my time at Loughborough included a fascinating module in Sustainable Design, an ethic or ‘culture’ of design that is slowly but inevitably beginning to dominate the design process. For those of you unfamiliar with the specifics of sustainability, I encourage you to watch this video:  ‘Sustainability explained through animation’.

My view is this: design currently conforms to a very linear, wasteful and deconstructive system. The only reason we design (other than to expand our influence) is to promote the continuity of consumption, in most cases at the expense of other people’s well-being. As designers we have untold influence over this consumptive process -through our desire to create and innovate. In many public and private industries it is common for professionals to commit to an oath to ‘serve the people’, with a purpose to bind the commitment of ones desire to help with the people rather than with the process, and it is this trait I feel design lacks.

Our decisions regarding material choices, functionality and even aesthetic have obscure consequences for the people who buy, produce and process our products. One example is in the role of cheap labour, where in order to drive down prices for western consumers the wages of the labourers are depressed as a subsidy. Sustainable design promotes the introduction of a system to alleviate the need to perform such practices, alongside a more sensible ‘bottom-up’ approach to producing a product.

Caption: C2C uses a dually-cyclical process. Image credit: Cradle to Cradle/Andrew Silbey

‘Cradle to Cradle’ is a strategy that aims to reduce the need for products to be thrown away or recycled once they expire a relatively brief life cycle. Through designing a product to be long-term in the first instance, rather than half-heartedly adding it on at the end, much of the issues surrounding waste, use and even functionality are resolved. Many believe that sustainability is a fad-cause, something that takes on the guise of a true change but underneath is really just another liberal attempt to assuage climate change. This I can tell you is completely beyond the pale, and it partly explains my reasoning for this blog post.
Given our influence, and the iterative process we have gone through to get this far as an industry, we need to embrace a further sense of environmentalism to continue our evolution. Simply designing to a consumer-first strategy above all else is dangerous and somewhat ignorant to the wider issues our world faces – being a contributory causality of many of these issues gives us a strong moral responsibility to actively change the ethic we design to.
So how can design truly change the world? Well it needs to embrace what seems an inevitable change to an environment-first, consumer-second strategy – but in a way in which allows the two to coerce and complement each other effectively. After all, without the world beneath our feet what use is an iPod? (And vice-versa).
So as a newbie to the big wide world of design, I sit here typing this wondering who will bring about the next big change to our industry – my hope is that it will be all of us.