At the beginning of a new year we often find ourselves making resolutions in order to take advantage of new opportunities and learn from situations of the past. 2009 brings about many possibilities for growth, as well as a number of worldwide challenges for designers and non-designers alike.

Members of the Icsid Board and Senate present their perspectives on the upcoming year, looking at how current economic, environmental and political conditions may impact the sector, and offer their advice, words of encouragement and wishes of good health and success to all for 2009.

Prof. Carlos Hinrichsen, Chile

2007-2009 Icsid President

As we begin the year 2009, we find ourselves surrounded by the news of a global economic crisis. Like glue that keeps us stuck in our seats, these conversations about the downturn can be easily distracting. We become spectators, watching the world’s crisis from the audience, when we all know that we should really be on the stage taking action.

It is important that we put the figures into perspective. The world’s population is larger than ever before, thus the size and scale of economies are as well. Nevertheless, what this global situation does is call into question our current design models and business paradigms in a manner that should encourage the exploration of new approaches to our traditional process.

Though these times may be challenging, without this push it would be much harder to think creatively. Crises keeps us flexible, providing new opportunities for us to reinvent ourselves and achieve what we think we would never be able to accomplish. Ultimately, it pushes us to develop a new order of things for most aspects of life: business, education, art, science, health, entertainment and more.

In the face of the global crisis, we must find the appropriate design solutions on a local level in order to respond specifically to the needs or expectations of the end users. We must attempt to find a positive approach and identify design opportunities instead of focusing on design problems. Only such a positive perspective will enable us to see how our products and services can be adapted to a constantly changing world.

The following actions will help you work through the current challenges:

  • SIMPLIFY. Crises are superb opportunities to revise your life plan and your business plan. Define what is fundamental and important and get rid of the rest.
  • RATIONALISE. Concentrate on what is important: Who are your strongest customers, collaborators or partners? What are your best products or services?
  • ASSOCIATE. Be supportive. We are all interconnected.
    GROW. Take the time to explore new things, learn, and be curious. Think strategically. What areas should you strengthen?
  • EXPLORE. Develop your ability to create solutions by forcing yourself to deal in uncertain areas.

If we assume that global economies will continue to struggle in 2009, the design professions will be forced to think differently about how they do business – the products they make and the services they provide. Consumers will have less disposable income, which means that there will be less interest in non-essential or luxury products. In this economic environment, quality, durability and low-cost are likely to become more important than high style. Design consultancies are already suffering from the slowdown as fewer companies can afford to enlist their services.

As economies struggle, the trend I see for this year will be toward more meaningful and lasting design products, especially those that improve our quality of life. Design always works well with constraints, and a bad economy might in this way produce better design.

Yet there will be new opportunities as well. In American President-elect Barack Obama’s speech on his economic stimulus plan (8 January 2009), one of the goals is to create jobs through a national commitment to alternative energy industries and to infrastructure, such as urban planning and transport. These are areas where designers can make important contributions. Much of the design we will see will work to improve existing conditions of life rather than to create new objects.

There are also opportunities for design schools in this economy. Companies that would otherwise hire design consultancies may be more interested in doing sponsored projects with schools for the lower cost of research and development. So it is a good time for education to work with corporate partners. Secondly, during a bad economy, with its high unemployment rate, it is a good time to go back to school to learn new skills to improve job prospects for when the economy turns around. Design schools might consider creating programs for working designers through professional training programs.

Prof. Dr. Peter Zec, Germany

Icsid Senator, 2005-2007 Icsid President

Good health and business success are the two main wishes that I found in my Christmas cards, and I am very aware that these things have become more important than ever for 2009. Having travelled all over the world most of last year, I recognise a sense of uncertainty that lies above the global economy.

In times of economical problems it is most important that the design industry serves as a role model for good quality and potential creative ideas. Innovative design solutions will help to ease the market and will do their part to strengthen the global market economy. I am positive that design can set an example when we all aim for the same goal: for an international awareness of high quality, and for creative design solutions not only to train the common aesthetic awareness but also to gain maximum efficiency in business.

We are anxious to see what the new year brings. One thing is for sure: We are already looking forward to celebrating good design on the occasion of the red dot design award ceremony on 29 June in Essen, Germany. Being competitive always means striving for being best. And this is the spirit we need!

Dr. Robert Blaich, United States

Icsid Senator, 1987-1989 Icsid President, FIDSA/FRSA

There is no doubt that the economic, environmental and political environments will have a significant impact on designers. The challenge is to offer design solutions to these arenas, to industry and to Government and Social Institutions.

When asked what the limits of design are, Charles Eames replied “What are the limits of the problem?” It is my belief, that designers should be first and foremost Problem Solvers. With these skills designers can face the problems that will confront us in 2009. Design can improve the quality of life when effectively used to produce better and more innovative products, communications and environments. The design process is now being utilised in setting corporate strategic directions to meet the needs of people.

Designers must move from a reactive to a proactive role in key global issues, such as environmental, economic and societal needs. The social responsibility of design will challenge designers to take more leadership in solving these complex problems and to improve the human condition worldwide. The role of design can be seen as the connector between the various elements of a specific problem to help clarify the issues and to help solve the problem. One must first state the problems, bring together all of the key players involved and put the power of design to use.

In his book “How to See”, designer, writer and philosopher George Nelson wrote that seeing is not a unique God-given talent, but a discipline that can be learned. Likewise, seeing and design are related just as seeing and thinking, or feeling are related. Therefore, seeing is to use our eyes with the possibility of uncovering many levels of meaning. His insight dating back from the 1970’s are even more valuable today. Seeing problems through “Design Eyes” is a unique skill and should be applied to the problems of today. During an economic crisis, designers who have lost their jobs and or clients should seriously consider utilising this period to sharpen their skills by going back to school to learn new skills or upgrade their existing skills.

Dr. Lorraine Justice, China

2007-2009 Icsid Board Member

In 2009, it is wise to invest in yourself! When you get another degree, learn about something new or tackle a project that will increase your understanding of yourself and the world, you will rise in value, with paid dividends every year of your life. Now is the time to go back to school or re-think the next 10 years of your life not just for financial security, but for maximum lifestyle benefits.

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