I now pronounce you Mr. & Mrs. Design Futures

The article that struck me the most was Candy’s WHY FUTURES AND DESIGN ARE GETTING MARRIED. It’s very interesting to me in that this was written in 2007, where, to my understanding, design futures was a very young idea. It made me question the reception received to the future and design community. Was it regected? Was it wholly accepted? In anything that is proposed to be combined, I’m sure it was a little bit of both. I can almost see designers and futurists glued to opposite walls at a metaphorical school dance where neither one of them wants to dance with each other until someone finally breaks the ice. Perhaps Candy was that ice breaker?

Speculation aside, Candy effectively defined and paralleled futures and design. Unlike some of the past readings, I enjoyed how he listed and categorized different parts of the subjects without being constraining.

While the world has heard many calls for social change, few have come from designers themselves, in part because the design community has not produced its own arguments about what kinds of change it would like to see.

The above quote from Margolin sparked some of my own experience grappling with this idea. Coming in as a freshman to the design program, many of us, me included, in our bright-eyed naiveté desire to make things of desire – beautiful products, eye candy, things that cater to the first world because are the first world. However, many of these ideas were quickly dashed and suddenly we were thinking about social impact, a heavy weight we had not thought of before, an opened curtain to our blind and previously shallow minds.

Talking to students from other design programs, where aesthetics tend to overpower function, it’s often frustrating to communicate the need of designing for social change. Many believe design can’t change the world – that we’re taught to create beautiful products more useful, but perhaps not as impactful. Maybe it’s because I’ve been primed to this idea – the core of what we’re taught at Carnegie Mellon – but I’ve found it difficult to communicate these ideas to other people of my age outside of our design program. Sure, some of it is hand waving and somewhat removed from the “real” problems, but it instills in us the attitude of questioning the why and what could be outside of what is considered traditional design. From the outside, design is seen as skin-deep, a practice of styling whatever’s “on trend.” It’s very interesting to me that only within maybe the past twenty years has design overcome its previous life as “commercial art” and has gushed into the world of humanitarian impact. I very much enjoy the act that futures has flowed along with that as well.

Candy’s three principles for designing experiential scenarios effectively illustrated how design might question and change the world around us. However, I felt as if it was missing something. For some reason I expected a fourth point, and was surprised that there wasn’t. It’s hard for me to say what exactly put me off, and I almost regret mentioning it now, as I honestly can’t think of what else could be added. He talks about 1) not breaking the universe, 2) explaining a world with just a taste, and 3) making people question the ridiculousness or suspicious normalcy of a situation. Perhaps these three points didn’t describe or utilize enough of the internal emotions or reactions of an audience, as many of the examples are presented in plain view with almost too-obvious reactions most people would have. It’s almost like setting up three steps but with not much of a resolution or a “so what?” Perhaps we’ll discuss it in class, because now I certainly can’t put my finger on it.

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One thought on “I now pronounce you Mr. & Mrs. Design Futures

  1. As the same article made me reflect on the role of designers and how it is perceived in society, I decided to place my reflection as a comment to yours. I hope you agree in seeing some continuity..

    I think that the role of designers has been evolving and changed a lot during the last few decades. I come from a country, Italy, where design has always been associated with making things beautiful and nothing else. An Italian designer aims at creating the most aesthetically pleasant chair, using high quality materials and so forth. That is what you call traditional design, with a limited social dependence. If I then think of what I would like design to be like, I see it as socially responsible, which is something that I realized only after starting the University, just like you did. But the discipline of designing has today many more facets that what it had in the past and that ended up with breaking the category in more and more sub-categories. It becomes more and more difficult to write down an official 100-words definition of what it is, because it is indeed so personal. And I see this as a drawback when talking about designing the future. As Margolin tells us, designers have not yet (or at least not in 2007) contributed to changing the world because, and here is my opinion, they do not have a common methodology, which does not necessarily implies a common direction. Should not be useful for designers to engage a dance with each other, before they try to do it with futurologists, engineers, psychologists and so forth?
    Because in the end, I do believe that envisioning the future and designing social-leader products can only happen when the designer can enrich his work with the company of other technicians. The burden of steering the wheels of the world are not all upon our shoulders, thank God!
    Finally, I believe instead that the three principles presented are quite complete, or at least make sense to me.

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