I am a passionate advocate for human-centered design. Even as my own design professors suggested a designer’s role was to create beautiful design for an illiterate and ignorant world, I believed this was a view focused entirely on the designer. I believe design should always be in service to the wants and needs of the people for whom we design. ‘Designer-centered design’ is antithetical to ‘human-centered design.’
I believe design bears a high burden of responsibility in society. It must anticipate cultural, social, technological, economic and other changes before they occur. It must embrace and integrate new fields of study to understand and solve for the new challenges that result. Design must then return to a streamlined equilibrium in order to function efficiently and effectively.
Nowhere is this burden of responsibility more evident than in the ethical responsibility to do what is right. Not only must design focus on the needs of people and deliver value for business, but it must do so in a way that safeguards and improves human life. In its short history design has risen to this challenge repeatedly. We see this in the emergence of new fields of practice such as man-machine interface design, information design, graphic design, human-computer interaction design, industrial design, and experience design. Each of these areas of practice emerged not only in response to change, but also from the need to shape the change for the betterment of humanity.
The role of design has never been more important than it is today. Technological change is more complex and accelerated than any time in history. It has created global challenges the likes of which we haven’t seen. Technologies like augmented reality (AR), machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), voice synthesis, virtual reality (VR), genetic manipulation, robotics, distributed computing, digital currency and more, come with risks as big as their potential benefits. Not only do these advancements introduce ethical questions we’ve never before encountered, they also present problems we’ve never before faced. Do two people share the same version of reality? Is the individual you’re interacting with a real person? Can I trust a specific entity or company? Are you safe and secure in your home? What is privacy? What do you personally own? If these emerging technologies are to be harnessed for the good of humankind, I believe design must once again rise to the occasion and quite literally save the world.
Few things are more important today than educating the next generation of designers. The role they will play in our future is unprecedented. The challenges they will face are incomprehensible. We must teach them to be creative problem solvers. To be equally great creators and technologists and to nimbly move between the two.
I believe educating great designers must begin with a strong foundation in theory and process–this is critical. Subsequent coursework should be problem-based and require the full design process from research through delivery of tangible, working solutions whenever possible. Studio courses combining multi-disciplinary teams solving real-world problems, accelerate and multiply the learning potential. I strongly advocate for internships and co-ops as these facilitate invaluable shared learning in the classroom that would otherwise not happen. And perhaps most importantly, I believe strongly in bringing real clients with real projects into the classroom whenever possible.
Teaching design students must be about producing the leaders who will design our future. We must support, guide and nurture them to be empathic and passionate about designing for people. We must nurture their abilities as great thinkers and problem solvers. We must instill in them the importance of looking ahead. Not only must they design for the future, they must evolve and reshape the field of design as they do so. Ultimately, we must prepare them with a set of design tools, skills and processes that become part of who they are–second nature. I believe our future depends on them.