*Posted in my Elon blog on November 21, 2010 in response to 30 Conversations on Design.
To be a designer, does one have to be liberal? Gone are the days when a designer focuses solely on form or function or fusing the two. Now it seems designers are uniformly liberal. Whether it’s Emily Pilloton who currently lives in Bertie County, North Carolina, trying to use design in the classroom to better educate children in a broken education system or it’s Tina Roth Eisenberg who wants to bring clean water to those with insufficient access, designers are progressive. They seek to change, to empower, to inform. The status quo is the enemy.
Designer as liberal. It’s like the chicken or the egg. Does the profession push designers to a liberal mindset or are liberals drawn to the field? Or neither? Or both?
I think it’s both. I can’t imagine a designer seeking to maintain the status quo. To enlighten someone or empower someone…it’s like a mini-revolution. Think about suppressed populations throughout the history of the world that weren’t taught to read. Their inability to empower themselves enslaved their minds as much as their bodies. For the suppressors, ignorance is bliss; it’s also irresponsible.
Designers seek to inform people, shine light on their ignorances (either of choice or neglect).
The process of design is the cognitive action of deciding how something should be. In order to design, one must fully understand what they are designing, how and why it will be used.
From this total understanding comes the knowledge that what they’re designing is more than just form and function, designers understand it’s the ability to educate people.
As I’ve been writing this piece, I’ve been jumping back and forth between “design of product/tangible object and ideas/conventions of thought.” I realize I’m really speaking to design of ideas, information and conventions of thought. As the Internet takes it’s place in our lives, design comes with it. In fact, it may be more important than ever. Information must be designed to adequately exist at our fingertips. But as information is designed rather than simply presented, it’s relevance and power increases.
Designers understand this shift. As information becomes more ubiquitous, as more individuals can collect and disseminate information, those who understand the weight design can potentially carry see design as a means to an end.
So yes, activists and liberals probably are drawn to design. And the nature of design requires those working in the field to always push the envelope. But as a designer must fully understand from every possible angle what he or she is designing, I can’t help but wonder if the term activist or liberal is a mis-label and that those who would be labeled as such, are simply informed.