Design, Passenger Experience

Design’s Mid-Life Crisis

The real value of Design training transcends the ability to incrementally refine the shape of staplers, orange juicers and the myriad of objects owned by the world’s “10%”

This week, I have been at the Design Research Society’s 2014 conference in Umeå, Sweden. There were some outstanding presentations from an international audience “pushing the boundaries of design and design research”. On an individual scale, there is no question that amazing and interesting work is being done in the field of Design: Dog & Bone; Experience Design; The Chef as Designer; Airport Security ScreeningDesigning Medical JewelleryArchitectural UsabilityAirline Passenger Comfort to mention a few. On a collective scale, however, I leave DRS2014 with the feeling that Design as a field is trapped in a struggle to articulate its own value. Questions of whether “Service” Design is more important than “Industrial” Design appear to miss the point completely. Why are we asking these questions at all?

It is generally acknowledged that as complexity in the world increases, there is a need for collaboration in order to create solutions to problems. Put in a different way: no one individual Designer can hope to have the skills needed to solve the problems that we are confronted with in society today. An excellent example of this was provided in the opening debate at DRS2014 – unfortunately, the elephant that remained in the room was that in order to “design” solutions in a field like synthetic biology, there is a necessary amount of domain knowledge that the design team must possess. It is naïve to think that design skills alone can lead to thoughtful solutions amidst such complexity. It is critical to work with people from different Design and other disciplines. Questioning which of these fields or professions is more important than the other is meaningless and smacks of insecurity.

Rather than continuing conversations that showcase this insecurity and demonstrate a lack of conviction (“Please don’t tweet what the speakers say as they don’t believe their own words”. Really??) perhaps we collectively should focus on articulating the value that Design training brings to developing solutions to complex world problems.

To be useful in the future, ‪#design needs to learn to articulate its value ‪#drs2014 Twitter

Let’s replace the “fake debates” with authentic conversations. Let’s stop cowering in the shadows of our own opinions. Let’s recognize that collectively, as Designers, we are trained to listen, hear, empathise and understand, think laterally, communicate effectively and have the courage to work with others to create solutions to world problems. The real value of Design training transcends the ability to incrementally refine the shape of staplers, orange juicers and the myriad of objects owned by the world’s “10%”. The real value of Design training lies in its contribution towards solving challenging and complex problems.

The next international Design conference will be hosted in Brisbane in November next year. Will we have the confidence to venture outside the status quo and address Design’s mid-life crisis?



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