10 June 2012

Manifesto for design upholding human talents and innovation

Be the first to share

This morning I got an invite in the mail to attend a London design symposium at Brunel University next week (16 June) that will debate the core themes of a new design manifesto, strangely called “Big Potatoes”

Although I cannot attend the debates at such short notice, the manifesto itself and the themes of the debate are intriguing enough to merit this blog post.

The manifesto is written by six authors – Nico Macdonald, Alan Patrick, Martyn Perks, Mitchell Sava, James Woudhuysen and Norman Lewis. Unfortunately it is not so clear what the manifesto actually says – it will be officially presented at the London Symposium – but you get some background by looking at the fourteen principles who are explored in depth on the Big Potatoes website:

01: Think big
02: The post-war legacy
03: Principles not models
04: For useless research
05: Hard work
06: Expect failures
07: Chance and surprise
08: Take risks
09: Leadership
10: Whose responsibility?
11: Trust the people
12: Think/Act Global
13: We know no limits
14: For humanity

The debate on 16 June is quite provocative as well:

DEBATE#1: UPHOLDING HUMANISM – OR CENTERING ON USERS?
Design is intimately bound up with understanding people. Every designer extols the virtues of getting to know customers, users, people. However, can being too close to your subject stifle creativity? Today this question has added relevance and is at the heart of our manifesto. As at no other time, the collective and individual will of human beings is felt to be little rival to the capricious actions of Fate.

The human ability to take a conscious risk, in the pursuit of innovation, used to be the fundamental premise of design. But now designers join with other cynics in agreeing that people are for the most part driven by nature, neurology, ostentation and irrationality. That can only degrade the processes and the products of design.

The old discussion was about people as market segments with latent needs – people who were held to be in a ‘relationship’ with product or service providers. More and more, however, the rhetoric today consists of how design can work to minimise demand, redirect consumption, and even improve patterns of human behaviour.

Is it the role of design to understand and change people’s behaviour, or is design about producing ideas that allow people to make their own minds up on how they choose to use it? Likewise, should design strive to exceed expectations by going beyond people’s immediate needs, or must it be mindful of how people might use stuff, encouraging greater responsibility and awareness to ourselves and even the planet? And even where people do adapt existing things to better suit their needs – should we celebrate such amateurism, or instead prefer the expertise designers can bring, expertise that can raise people’s horizons further still?

DEBATE#2: DOES DESIGN DRIVE ECONOMIC GROWTH?
What is design’s contribution to economic growth? This question has for a long time been intimately bound up with discussions about design’s purpose — even more so since New Labour sought to trumpet the contribution made by the so-called ‘creative industries’ to UK plc. Because of the credit crunch, the precise effects that design has on wealth creation have become more pertinent than ever. Both the state and many design industry professionals feel that design needs to justify its contribution.

Economic growth is a key issue for our manifesto, not least because designers have been poor at theorising their relationship with innovation. In our view, design could do more to promote and implement scientific and technological advance. At the moment design often fails to grasp the opportunity presented by innovation – by being too focused on surface, incremental improvements. That can mean it ends up being marginalised as a result.

The problem with design and growth runs much deeper than rates of remuneration, royalties, intellectual property and all the rest. It is impossible to put a value on design without clarifying and improving the role designers play with regard to innovation. Can designers, by themselves, stimulate economic growth by creating new demand through the design of new products and services? Or are such products and services best realised when designers link up closely with scientific and technological innovation? Conversely, is design’s real role less about creating new growth per se, and more about persuading people to consume more through marketing and branding existing products and services?

So you get the gist: this event has a very strong political and pro-growth agenda, while some of the debate descriptions are laced with value judgments (“capricious actions of Fate”, “designers join with other cynics”, “degrade the process and products of design”, “amateurism”, etc.)

A little searching online confirms this first impression, but also adds complexity to it all:

Powerbase, the online wiki-style “guide to networks of power, lobbying, public relations and the communications activities of governments and other interests”, says that the manifesto is associated with the “libertarian anti-environmental LM network” (with LM standing for “Living Marxism”), which itself is an offspring of the RCP (the UK’s Revolutionary Communist Party, disbanded in 1996).

Steven Rose has been exploring the LM Network and writes briefly about it on Spinwatch, “an independent non-profit making UK organisation which monitors the role of public relations and spin in contemporary society”:

“Spinwatch has monitored the groups that have flowed from the RCP, groups we collectively term the ‘LM network’. Moving from an ultra-left position through to a libertarian pro-corporate line of argument, they have been, as Rose notes, strong defenders of what they call ‘scientific progress’, meaning that they have been strongly in favour of GM technology and other scientific advances favoured by transnational corporations. However, they have also taken a strong line against scientific progress in the area of risk. So they are opposed to the scientific consensus on climate change, on harms caused by tobacco and by the food and advertising industries.

The common denominator there is that this kind of scientific progress is against the interests of key corporate sectors. Spinwatch has also recently reported on how their traditional ‘anti-Imperialist’ position on colonial struggles has degenerated into a position that attacks those offering solidarity to the Palestinian people. Overall, what we see from the very earliest days of the RCT to the antics of the various tentacles of the LM network now, is consistent in the sense that it involves attacking the left and progressive movements. However, the increasingly close relationship between the LM network and corporate lobby groups and neoliberal and neoconservative think tanks, suggests that it might be more accurate to see them not as libertarian iconoclasts, but simply as another faction of the British conservative movement.”

I am not convinced that the above politicising of the design debate is the best way forward. It just makes our discipline another battleground of a wider culture clash, whereas I see design more as a problem solving tool. I also disagree with their deep faith in the power of economic growth, but leave it to brighter minds – like John Thackara and others – to develop this criticism.

UPDATE: John commented here and here.

Be the first to share
25 May 2016
[Book] The Fourth Revolution: How the Infosphere is Reshaping Human Reality
The Fourth Revolution: How the Infosphere is Reshaping Human Reality by Luciano Floridi Oxford University Press, 272 pages Reprint edition (May 17, 2016) Who are we, and how do we relate to each other? Luciano Floridi, one of the …
19 May 2016
Transition design as postindustrial interaction design
The School of Design at Carnegie Mellon University has started talking about 'Transition Design.' In his long reflection about this new kind of design practice, Cameron Tonkinwise, CMU's Director of Design and Doctoral Studies, writes: Transition refers …
30 April 2016
The Internet of Things needs design, not just technology
Scott A. Nelson and Paul Metaxatos write that, as B2C companies rush to exploit new IoT applications, pushing technology to potential end users no longer works. Increasingly, the pull of user experience will drive market …
25 April 2016
How city design is adapting to older populations
As cities experience a demographic shift, the need for age-friendly design is becoming ever more critical. From almshouses to driverless cars, the future of urban housing and mobility may just be shaped for and by …
24 April 2016
[Book] The Politics of Design
The Politics of Design: A (Not so) Global Manual for Visual Communication By Ruben Pater BIS Publishers May 2015 Many designs that appear in today’s society will circulate and encounter audiences of many different cultures and languages. With communication …
19 April 2016
Co-creating policy and public services in Ireland
Governments, public sector and community organisations are addressing increasingly complex challenges such as the ageing society, climate change, sustainable behaviour change, youth unemployment, impacts of austerity, health, housing and homelessness. They are doing this at a …
14 April 2016
Anthropology is not only undersold, it’s misunderstood
Dr. John Sherry, Director of Business Innovation Research at Intel, says in an long profile on Epicpeople that anthropology is not only undersold, but also misunderstood: People too often talk about ethnography as a tool for …
12 April 2016
The latest on innovation in Energy Efficient Buildings: annual round-up of EU Commission projects
Every year, the Energy-efficient Buildings (EeB) Public Private Partnership (PPP) publishes the EeB PPP project review - a round-up of energy-efficiency projects that have been co-funded by two European Commission schemes. This year, the print …

We are an international experience design consultancy helping companies and organisations to innovate their products, services and processes by putting people and their experiences first.

23 May 2016
Experientia white paper: “Conducting clinical trials is about working with patients”

Patient-centricity is one of the defining issues facing clinical trials in the pharma industry. The past few years have seen a growing awareness by pharmaceutical companies of the importance of patient-centricity – but they have also illustrated that not everyone is clear on just what patient-centricity is, or how to achieve it. After using UX […]

12 April 2016
The latest on innovation in Energy Efficient Buildings: annual round-up of EU Commission projects

Every year, the Energy-efficient Buildings (EeB) Public Private Partnership (PPP) publishes the EeB PPP project review – a round-up of energy-efficiency projects that have been co-funded by two European Commission schemes. This year, the print and digital booklet design was done by Experientia, in particular by our talented visual and interaction designer Dohun Jang. Experientia […]

8 March 2016
Behavioral modeling – Shaping cultural change and behavioral evolution

One of the things we do here at Experientia that really sets us apart from other UX agencies is behavioral modeling. Our cognitive and behavioral models go beyond the standard customer journeys and personas (both useful tools, and often preliminary steps to behavioral modeling) to create frameworks that can be used to make people more […]

1 March 2016
Singapore’s main newspaper on Experientia’s design with the elderly

Arti Mulchand reports in the Straits Times, Singapore’s main newspaper, on Experientia’s “Design for Ageing Gracefully” project: Putting faces to end-users early in the design process is changing the way designers and organisations are approaching products aimed at Singapore’s growing elderly demographic. Experientia’s ethnographic study, which was commissioned by DesignSingapore Council in a collaboration with […]

18 January 2016
Experientia website completely reshaped

Experientia is pleased to announce that we’ve started 2016 with a brand new website. Experientia’s now officially 10 years old, and we decided that the best way to celebrate is by building a new website that showcases our growth – with new projects, new people in the staff, and two new locations in Lausanne and […]

1 January 2016
For when things get personal…
See all articles