Last night at an IDSA event here in San Francisco, Digging Deeper, one member of the audience asked an interesting question, essentially: “What is the designer’s role in consumerism–either promoting it or dispersing it?”
Despite how optimistic, idealistic, and future-oriented most designers are, design has sometimes created big problems in the world. Even where our best intentions have been engaged, our outcomes have often fallen short—sometimes making matters worse—because we didn’t see the whole picture when creating what we envisioned. Where our best intentions haven’t been engaged, design (and marketing and sales and business) has been dismal. We are often responsible for making people feel terribly about themselves, only redeemable by buying this product or that service.
Designers are taught (too much) to make “new” when it isn’t really better or when “old” doesn’t need replacing. We are complacent when our engineering and marketing colleagues suggest or insist on low-quality over longevity, cheap materials, or bad usability.
For sure, designers aren’t the only ones who are guilty. Marketeers, engineers, leaders, managers, advertisers, etc. all contribute to the problem. But, we have a responsibility, nonetheless, to do something about it if we truly care about our profession, our customers, and (ultimately), ourselves.
I’m fond of this quote: “You can’t be part of the solution unless you’re part of the problem.” What this means is that if you’re not in the system that needs fixing, you’re not in a position to affect that needed change. Designers, therefore, are well-positioned to make change across a range of values: sustainability, consumer culture, society, the environment, etc. That’s what this book is all about.
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