To most people “design” is analogous to “making things pretty” but good design is really about finding elegant solutions to complex problems. It then follows that if design solves problems then it can do good and – equally – when practiced badly it can do harm.
This is the central argument in Mike Monteiro’s talk from Webstock last year. If you’re a designer, work on things that involve design, or are interested in how professional ethics get bashed out in a new field find the 48 minutes to watch:
We are mired in a design culture that eight doesn’t understand its responsibility to the world we live in. Or worse, it doesn’t care.
— Mike Monteiro in How Designers Destroyed the World.
He makes a very strong case that designers need to take far greater responsibility for “what they put into the world”. In particular it’s just not good enough to say “fuck it” when the going gets tough.
Towards the end of the talk Monteiro makes explicit the political issues that inform his personal and professional ethics. They are far from radical in and of themselves but they did make me wonder: can digital design have any political imperative in the 21st century? Does it have a conscience?
The 19th and 20th centuries are marked by art, design and architectural movements that sought to harness and direct their practice for the good of humanity.
Is digital design in the 21st century similarly capable of acting for real change or has “changing the world” now just be relegated to another meaningless platitude wedged into Silicon Valley mission statements?