19 January 2007

We need macrodesigners, says Uday Dandavate

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Uday Dandavate
Uday Dandavate, principal of the participatory design agency Sonic Rim, and faculty member of the Danish 180º Academy, just wrote a thought-provoking post on the Anthrodesign Yahoo! Group arguing that it is important for designers to incorporate MacroDesign concepts and top-down thinking in their approach.

Many organisations, he says, would benefit from professionals specialising in using design and innovation as a macro level thinking process.

To open up the discussion on his ideas, I re-publish his post (which is already starting a debate) here:

If I follow the evolution of the field of design, I do believe that we have borrowed concepts and inspiration from a variety of fields including architecture, psychology, sociology and anthropology. In continuation of my earlier post on scaling design, I have been wandering around (intellectually) to search for new inspiration and concepts that would help me develop my ideas about taking design at a more strategic and mass scale. I think I have found some direction and want to share it with you, so that together, we can help define new directions, ideas, tools and language for what I now propose to call “MacroDesign”.

I am now going to borrow concepts from the field of economics. As you all know, the field of economics is broken down into two distinct areas of study: microeconomics and macroeconomics. The branch of economics that analyzes the market behavior of individual consumers and firms in an attempt to understand the decision-making process of firms and households is termed as Microeconomics. It is concerned with the interaction between individual buyers and sellers and the factors that influence the choices made by buyers and sellers. In particular, microeconomics focuses on patterns of supply and demand and the determination of price and output in individual markets (e.g. coffee industry). I propose that what we as designers have been engaged in for a long time is Microdesign. Macroeconomics, on the other hand, looks at the big picture (hence “macro”). It focuses on the national economy as a whole and provides a basic knowledge of how things work in the business world. For example, people who study this branch of economics would be able to interpret the latest Gross Domestic Product figures or explain why a 6% rate of unemployment is not necessarily a bad thing. Thus, for an overall perspective of how the entire economy works, you need to have an understanding of economics at both the micro and macro levels. “macroeconomics,” and saw it was a matter of scope and scale. Macroeconomics examines whole economic systems and how different sectors interact. This perspective considers issues of income, output and growth, inflation, and unemployment. National economic policies and complexities of industrial production come into play. (Investopedia 2006)

The bottom line is that microeconomics takes a bottoms-up approach to analyzing the economy while macroeconomics takes a top-down approach. Regardless, both micro- and macroeconomics provide fundamental tools for any finance professional and should be studied together in order to fully understand how companies operate and earn revenues and thus, how an entire economy is managed and sustained. (Investopedia 2006)

There is some learning for us and a great opportunity to take Design to a strategic level, if we study the evolution of these two types of economics. Design Education, in my view should incorporate MacroDesign concepts, especially at graduate level. I do believe that organizations that operate at higher levels such as governments (local and national), International development agencies (such as UNDP, WHO, UNESCO), international consortiums of global corporations and many such macro level organizations would benefit from professionals specializing in using design and innovation as a macro level thinking process. I am beginning to think that the body of knowledge within the design field is limited by our focus on bottoms up approach (which is critical), and has not been balanced by people dedicated to top-down thinking as well. It is time design students have the opportunity to pursue careers in MacroDesign and become evangelists for MicroDesigners.

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