Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Evil of Design

Even though I am happy to see the wonderful push for design thinking and a designerly approach today in academia and in business, it is also a bit disturbing to see the lack of critical thinking about design. Design as an approach is today by many seen as the silver bullet to almost any kind of problem. A design approach is considered to be able to deal with any kind of situation. I do agree that design as an approach is powerful, maybe more so than many believe even among those who advocate it. I do agree that many issues today should be approached in a designerly way. But it is also crucial to remember that design as an approach is not inherently good.

Almost all things that scare us and make our lives difficult and dangerous are designed. Some of the most wonderful examples of great design are also considered to be manifestations of evil. Humans design wars, genoside, weapons of destruction, and maybe even more extraordinary but less obvious designs aimed at suppressing people (such as political, governing or business structures), sometimes even in combination with wonderful 'user' experiences that makes people appreciate being oppressed (what a great design!).

In this new emerging era of design thinking and designerly approaches it is important to remember that design is only an approach--it is a process. It is a powerful approach, but there is no guarantor that the outcome will be good design and there is no guarantee that the design process will not lead to evil designs. At the end of the day, it all comes down to the character of the designer. Values and beliefs guides and shapes the judgements made by the designer. Developing design competence therefore means developing once personal character as well as once design thinking ability. 

Anyone engaging in design in a serious way therefore has to be constantly aware of and reflect on the 'nature' of design and also be highly critical of any simple versions of design that promises processes that will lead to good results in some 'automatic' prescriptive guaranteed way. Critical thinking is as important in design as in science.

[In the book "The Design Way" these issues are discussed in the chapters "The Evil of Design" and "The Guarantor-of-Design (g.o.d.)"]

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