Saturday, March 21, 2009

design activism

Industrial designers were the providers of hope for the better tomorrow during the Great Depression by introducing the public to an American Streamline style that represented efficiency. This celebrated occupation continued to grow into understanding people’s ideal experience and create emotional connections between products and its users. Today design is the leading force of innovation in the business world.

Design has brought success for corporations yet has done little for the interest of the public. We are going through a national economic crisis and we can and should bring hope to this time of despair again.

What is our role as celebrated industrial designers at the time of today’s financial crisis? The role of the people who were there to show the better tomorrow to the nation during the Great Depression? This presentation introduces designers to Design Activism. It is an active collaboration between designers and activists to create events and messaging that resonate with the public in order to bring about a social change. Activists will be presenting successful examples of recent events that utilized design thinking into their strategy in order to influence policies and benefit all, including the under privileged.

Where we came from: the occupation that delivered hope and better future during the Great Depression (Industrial Design)
The celebrated occupation of industrial designer rose during the Great Depression. As American streamlined products became the symbol of a bright future and hope in a dark era, the profession was spotlighted as the creator of that hope and change. The time of American streamline design that brought the excitement and pride into this occupation was about emphasizing efficiency. It defined what industrial design means. Eventually, this function focused definition of industrial design met its limitation. Industry people started realizing that the product that looks cool, functions well, and is priced right is not enough - there were too many of them. A new cool came to life...

The rise of emotional design (design research)
Creating an emotional connection with users became the next cool thing. This meant the rise of the design research field within industrial design. As design research combines anthropology and psychology, we all became much smarter about understanding people and the experiences they are having and want to have. We learned that what people aspire to be is more important than who they are. A car is not just a means of transportation but an expression of oneself and his/her aspiration. We realized that products are just a part of an eco-system that helps people love “(any company name here)”! Branding, marketing, the product itself, the interaction system, and advertisement are all components of creating a lasting experience for business. So, industrial design became a study of understanding experience for design.

Where we are: possibly another Great Depression
Today we industrial designers are the masters of business innovation through design and creative thinking. Yet, the world is falling apart and we are in the time of national financial crisis. What is happening? Our consumer insights have been used mainly by the people who could afford our service - the corporate world with their business agenda. Many corporations choose design to be the leading force of their innovation process. Millions of dollars have been spent to understand consumers. We as creative leaders have cleverly helped businesses shape their innovative systems and products and help them deliver a DREAM. But it’s a dream without warranty or warnings.

There are many of my ID peers that I am very proud of who have been the changing agents in the corporate environment, advocating design and people (not just consumers) around important issues like sustainability. This is design activism. What other ways? We are trained to think creatively and sensitively to people’s desires (empathy) yet work within limitations such as business agendas. Why not benefit the nonprofits and public systems that do not have monetary resources? I call this active design activism. Here are some smart design activisms happening out in the world. Not limited to speaking about the current issues but focusing on the dream and desires and the language of the public. What would happen if this kind of smart, creative thinking was applied to our public service system? We are idea addicts. We hold solutions in our hands for this economic crisis and it is our time to step up and pay attention to the less privileged.

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