During the month of May, Icsid is covering the leaps and bounds made in the area of impact design or design for good within the industry. Joe Speicher, Executive Director at Autodesk Foundation and Bas van Lier, Editor-in-Chief at What Design Can Do, agreed to contribute to a discussion on this movement and how they interpret the future of the design profession. Below, they share their thoughts on some of the challenges the world currently faces and how these issues, when paired with the evolving world of technology, will shape our collective future.
Q: There seems to have been, over the last decade or so, a dramatic increase in the number of individuals, design firms and non-profits championing some form of ‘design for good’. Is this the natural next step for the design professions, or is this a separate field emerging?
Joe Speicher (JS): At the Autodesk Foundation, we see this as a natural progression, from the commercial sector as well as the social sector. There’s plenty of evidence that suggests more and more designers are acknowledging the social and environmental impacts of their design decisions, and an increasing number of non-profit organisations are leveraging design to help improve their service or product offering.
When we think about the future and the epic challenges we face – as a result of climate change and an exploding urban population – good design is the only way to ensure a more sustainable world. How do we build smarter cities and better infrastructure to handle the unprecedented urbanisation we’ll see in the next three decades? That’s a design challenge. How do we drive technological innovation into renewable energy generation and storage? That’s a design challenge. The list goes on and on.
We believe that societal value and business value are correlated. We intend to get ahead of these challenges; by supporting the designers who are changing the world and providing the software tools that will help them succeed, ultimately leading to a better future for all of us.
Bas van Lier (BvL): I would say a next step. After design discovered new capabilities through a kind of self-expression in the 1990’s – think of Droog Design – the world has changed dramatically. Global television and later social media – Facebook and Twitter started only 10 years ago – have made us even more aware of all the problems we face in the world today. At the same time, blunt consumerism continues to decline. It seems to me a natural thing for designers to shift their attention from designing things to designing solutions. We will still need things to sit on or to communicate with, but we can make them in such ways that they add to the solution. Look at Fairphone, a sustainably and fairly produced phone developed by designer Bas van Abel in the Netherlands. It’s still a small company, but I’m sure Apple and Samsung and the likes will follow it attentively, because the Fairphone is not only better but also cheaper.
Q: How do you see the field of impact design evolving in the next decade? What are the obstacles and successes we might expect to see?
JS: We see two general trends emerging that will disrupt the design field overall in the coming years, from two completely different spheres. Externally, the societal and environmental changes our planet is experiencing will require new design solutions that must be cost-effective, localised and user-centric. And within the technology sector, an industry-wide shift to cloud, social and mobile services is democratising access and lowering barriers to entry. The good news is that these two trends – seemingly intractable challenges coupled with new and innovative solutions that can come from anywhere – are converging, creating the perfect opportunity for designers to focus their considerable expertise on solutions for a better future with impact design.
BvL: We’ll certainly see many more projects in the digital and open source realms. And also 3D printing will develop further, so that we witness more direct exchanges between designers and consumers. It’s what economist Jeremy Rifkin calls the Third Industrial Revolution, a complete shift towards renewable energy, exchanges of energy and products through the Internet, and zero marginal costs which results in a spectacular slowdown of climate change. It will mean a complete shift in the economy that will be most hindered by the ‘old way thinking’ of companies and politicians. But the Internet offers all the opportunities to challenge this need to hold on to old systems.
Q: We have seen a wide variety of terms used to describe, in some cases, very similar approaches. For example, we hear about ‘impact design’, ‘humanitarian design’, ‘socially responsible design’ and so on. Is the terminology going to coalesce, or are these terms all useful in describing slightly different philosophies?
JS: When we launched the Autodesk Foundation, we looked around at the many ‘communities of practice’ related to designing for positive impact and we found all of these too constrictive. There wasn’t one term that encompassed our mandate: to support the role of design for positive environmental and social impact.
We believe ‘impact design’ encompasses all of these various initiatives and can serve as a uniting force between designers of different disciplines. We engage this audience through the Impact Design Hub.
We’re not looking to necessarily coin the term ‘impact design’ but rather we’re looking for ways to bring together the broader community of product designers, architects, engineers, makers and others who all are committed to designing a better future. We expect that by being inclusive, the community can further collaborate and learn from each other to propel this nascent field forward.
BvL: Honestly, I have no idea. And I don’t know if this is of any importance as long as designers, to quote architect Cameron Sinclair, “design like they give a damn”.