It’s time that we as Designers and creatives at the forefront of innovation, communication and digital product development reevaluate our role and responsibility towards society and the eco-systems. In the early 70’s the designer and philosopher Victor Papanek wrote: „There are professions more harmful than industrial design, but only a few“. This thought is more relevant than ever, except today he would maybe expand the expression to Interaction-Design, Strategic Design or User-Experience Design.
In order to leave this planet better than it was, we have to step back, start asking uncomfortable questions, refocus and reevaluate our own role we want to play in creating the future.
These principles should serve you as a kind of compass to gain new perspectives, reflect your own work, spark conversations and maybe help you to find your own approach to not fuck up our future.
1. Be aware of your responsibility
Every artifact, product, service and system we design has an influence on the world around us. Our work affects people in their behavior, thinking, desires, wellbeing, relationships and actions as well as the natural resources, habitats of animals and the balance of the whole eco-system. Therefore we are responsible for every design decision we take, with whom we work and for what cause. Always remind yourself that you are part of a huge and fragile system.
2. Put impact over profit and focus on challenges that matter
Facing huge societal and environmental challenges we can’t afford continue wasting time designing things which are useless for the majority of society, only serve shareholders, and the irrational growth mindset of the market. So make sure, the problems you take on are worth solving. The sustainable development goals of the United Nations serve as a perfect compass to start from.
3. Understand the system you’re designing in
Designing solutions for environmental and societal challenges (wicked problems) always takes place in complex systems. There is no such thing as a single and independent solution. Everything is connected and dependent on other factors. Only if we get to understand the system we are working in, we can find a potential point of influence and start to enhance it.
4. Welcome diversity, work collaborative and interdisciplinary
In today’s complex and fast pacing world, no one can claim that he or she has the only right answer or solution. We need different expertise, perspectives, opinions, cultures, genders to collaborate together in order to create inclusive and sustainable solutions for everyone. Only a diverse design team is a good design team.
5. Gain empathy for the people you are designing for
We have to immerse ourselves into the challenges we are working in and create empathy for the people who are affected by it. Only if we include these people in a participatory design process or our design team, and work together collaboratively on eye-level we will create ideas that have a potential impact. In the end, everything is about relationships between people.
6. Learn from nature and think circular
We as designers play our role in the creation for most of the products that fill our dump yards and pollute our oceans. In the ecosystem, there is no such thing as waste, every resource is staying in a circular system and is reused over and over again. Design products which follow a circular mindset, use resources wisely and can be repaired. Or even better, stop creating products which have no higher value for society and which are not worth the resources they exhaust.
7. Build digital products that enrich our lives
By designing the interactions between technology and humans we shape the digital experiences of their daily life. In the last decade of technology-euphoria, we mainly created products which disconnected us from our true self, made addictive and harmful to our psyche. We have to shift back from a technology-driven design approach to creating products which serve us humans and which make our lives richer.
8. Embrace openness and community
The times where we can design closed and isolated artifacts, products and platforms are over. We have to leave our ego behind, open up our designs to everyone, build on each other’s ideas and create solutions which can be driven further and scaled by others. Embrace share ability, adaptability and hackability of your design solutions. Only then the whole is becoming greater than the sum of parts. Only then we can make use of our global crowed based intelligence
9. Create designs that empower others
We are not on our own in this. By creating designs that empower others you make them identify with the cause, enable them to take ownership, spread your effort and by that maximize the impact of your endeavor. One idea can lead to a whole movement, so start teaching others, create toolkits and share your knowledge wherever you can.
10. Take care of yourself
Working on the most pressing challenges of our time can be very overwhelming. If you’re not in balance, it’s easy to loose the connection to yourself and drown in a sea of workload and get exhausted and burned out on the long run. Learn to say no, set limits to your working ours and plan breaks for you to calm down and relax. Often small steps and solutions for e.g. in your local community are a good way to start from. If we don’t want to fuck up our future we need you here with your with your full power, so please take care of yourself and your wellbeing.