This is going to be messy and abrupt, but let me get one thing out in the open: design makes me sick. But to be more precise, what design and designers have become is what makes me sick — a self-sustaining microcosm that hopelessly struggles with its own identity and relevance in a warp-speed world of change and complexity. It lives in an endless cycle of reinvention and differentiation, year after year. Just look at any design blog and you’ll see an overabundance of design stuff, from typefaces to stock photo collections to paper varieties to software to agencies to new specializations. Design thinking, design research, transformation design, sustainable design, are all fighting for attention on magazine covers and in the marketplace, where consumers of design service are left scratching their heads. It’s a dizzying mess.
As a designer who cares about his work and the future of his profession, I feel that the integrity of design as a profession today has been compromised to a degree that it may never snap back to true (if ever it was true). I worry that designers have created a culture for themselves that is too self congratulating and not service- or people-oriented enough. Perhaps my notion of design fundamentally as a service to others, whether they’re individuals, corporations, or societies, is getting outdated. Some would argue that designers must inherently serve themselves and gain as much gratification as possible from their efforts, as if praise and self-satisfaction were far greater payment for “services” rendered than customer satisfaction and financial compensation.
I think framing this problem of what design and designers should and shouldn’t be is just as hard as addressing it in any meaningful way. I acknowledge that the argument is far too subjective and prone to a number of biases. Nevertheless, in coming posts I’ll do my best to present my thinking and probably step on a few toes in the process.
Stay tuned for the next installment: In Praise of the Design Underdog