Archive for the ‘sustainability’ Category

Hooray another design manifesto!

Tuesday, November 11th, 2008

Bruce Nussbaum of Business Week (one of the few non-design publications to take design seriously, and arguably one of the few publications full stop to take it seriously) was at the World Economic Forum in Dubai, where design was discussed. The result? A new design manifesto:

Throughout history, design has been an agent of change. It helps us to understand the changes in the world around us, and to turn them to our advantage by translating them into things that can make our lives better. Now, at a time of crisis and unprecedented change in every area of our lives – economic, political, environmental, societal and in science and technology – design is more valuable than ever.

The crisis comes at a time when design has evolved. Once a tool of consumption chiefly involved in the production of objects and images, design is now also engaged with developing and building systems and
strategies, and in changing behaviour often in collaboration with different disciplines.

Design is being used to:

  • Gain insight about people’s needs and desires
  • Build strategic foresight to discover new opportunities
  • Generate creative possibilities
  • Invent, prototype and test novel solutions of value
  • Deliver solutions into the world as innovations adopted at scale

In the current climate, the biggest challenges for design and also its greatest opportunities are:

  • Well-being – Design can make an important contribution to the redefinition and delivery of social services by addressing acute problems such as ageing, youth crime, housing and health. Many designers are striving to enable people all over the world to lead their lives with dignity, especially the deprived majority of the global population – ‘the other 90%’ who have the greatest need of design innovation.
  • Sustainability – Designers can play a critical role in ensuring that products, systems and services are developed, produced, shipped, sold and will eventually be disposed of in an ethically and environmentally responsible manner. Thereby meeting – and surpassing – consumers’ expectations.
  • Learning – Design can help to rebuild the education system to ensure that it is fit for purpose in the 21st Century. Another challenge is to redefine or reorient the design education system at a time of unprecedented demand when thousands of new design schools are being built worldwide and design is increasingly being integrated into other curricula. Designers are also deploying their skill at communication and visualization to explain and interpret the overwhelming volume of extraordinary complex information.
  • Innovation – Designers are continuing to develop and deliver innovative new products at a turbulent time when consumer attitudes are changing dramatically thereby creating new and exciting entrepreneurial opportunities in the current crisis. They are increasingly using their expertise to innovate in new areas such as the creation of new business models and adoption of a strategic and systemic role in both the public and the private sector.

I don’t disagree with any of this but call me an old cynic… I’m fed up with manifestos. I want action!

(Imagine the scenes from Life of Brian where the supposed revolutionaries are sitting round arguing about the wording of their demands. Then wonder what would have happened if, say, Barack had sat with Michelle and never got further than writing down things they’d like to do. Or if John Adams and Thomas Jefferson had been happy just to write and not to act?)

In a discussion on sustainability in design education today I got quite frustrated with colleagues who kept saying that changes to the curriculum need to happen slowly, over time, to help people adapt.
No, I said, they need to happen now. I’ve been hearing that line about gradual change for ten years.

“People don’t like change. But make the change happen fast enough and you go from one type of normal to another.”
(Terry Pratchett, Making Money)

We have a choice: we try to be nice about it, persuade people, get them to come around to our way of thinking, and then in 20 years time we can look back and see how far we’ve come. Which, if we look back 20 years to 1988 and think how far we’ve come along, won’t be much.
Or we can say “look, we haven’t got time to piss about. This is serious. If you’re with us you’re welcome. If you’re not, then go off and tend your garden ‘cos we’ve got some windmills to chop down”. I appear to be mixing my literary allusions there but you get the point. Shirking the challenge isn’t an option. We claim to be creative, radical, free thinking, revolutionary. It’d be nice to show that were true. (I happen to think at Dundee we’re well placed to do that, and already are, with great results).

“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Or the one”
(Spock, The Wrath of Khan)

Manifestos don’t work if all that happens is students write essays on them and critics celebrate them years later for what they said rather than what they did. Forty years on from the First Things First manifesto, what’s happened? Oh we got an updated version in 2000 and that’s about it. Forty years on from Victor Papanek’s Design For The Real World, what’s happened? It got reprinted for the anniversary.

What we need are not more manifestos which, by the way, are all saying pretty much the same thing. What we need are courses, institutions, industries and governments who say: “stop talking, and just do it”.

As it happens, my colleagues and I are currently writing our own manifesto for our course but the key thing is it won’t say “we should”, or “we want”, or “we envision” or even “we hope”. It’ll say “we will”. And “we do”. And “we have done”. Essentially, the difference between a wish list and a real manifesto is the grammar.

Actions, not aspirations. That’s my manifesto.

Sustainable design resources

Friday, October 19th, 2007


Ecolect is a new and interesting site dedicated to sustainability. It contains lots of news and resources that should be useful to anyone (and why isn’t everyone?) interested in sustainable design.