Can Design change the World? And should it try?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Plymouth University, Plymouth

Is it irresponsible to want design that is radical, experimental, is risky and that can challenge the brief? Or if not, then what is design for? And why does any of this matter?

Designers are influencing change everywhere. We are told that 'creative industries' are a major boost to the economy; that 'design-thinking' is reforming the NHS; that better design can reduce consumption and protect the environment; that design research techniques can help the third world make better use of limited resources.

While it is good that designers have ambition and want to change the world, are any of these ideas big enough? Or is the influence of design rather a coincidental symptom of society's acceptance of limits, where few leaders (or anyone else for that matter) openly argue for innovation, risk-taking and progress? Instead the prevailing trend seems to be about making do, reusing what we already have, cutting back and shunning experimentation. So any such design-led innovation appears to be less about radical change, and more about helping cutback and scale down solutions.

Is it irresponsible to want design that is radical, experimental, is risky and that can challenge the brief? Or if not, then what is design for? And why does any of this matter?