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The world is going through some fundamental changes. Governmental, Financial and Social systems that seemed to work before don’t scale too well in an increasingly connected world. People are looking for alternatives and ways to avoid beauracracy. We are beginning to slowly see the birth, re-design and iteration of new approaches to the old ways of doing stuff. Joe Fletcher recently wrote: “We’re not designers of aesthetic … We are critical thinkers who can help provide less disease, better education, better housing, and better solutions.”

So the question is:

What can we all do to continue to position designers as facilitators of positive change?



Daniel Szuc

Daniel Szuc is a Principal Consultant at a Apogee Usability Asia Ltd, based in Hong Kong, and previously worked on a usability team for Telstra Australia.

8 comments on this article

  1. Fran Diamond on

    Design is a problematic term because it is both extremely broad and can be quite narrow, depending on the application, the profession, the project, not to mention the audience. I’m not sure how productive a discussion we will have getting into the semantic discussion of who or what is a “designer” and why people think it’s one thing when it’s really something else.

    I say define yourself around, what you offer and what problem you’ll be solving. To say “I design” doesn’t get you anywhere.

  2. Fran – I’ve thought about that a lot… that design is a terrible term, the problem is I can’t think of anything better. Really what we have, what we learn, it a set of methods and ideas around thinking, framing, and approaching problems…. but “Thinkers” sounds sort of pompous and lame (Director of Think just sounds funny), so I’m sticking with designer for now. Daniel’s point, ignoring the semantic issue, which is a red herring for endless debate, is interesting. Well, I think it’s interesting as I just wrote a little article on it, but seriously… we’ve come up from being website designers or poster designers to … software? industrial? As we’re carving out what our field does, let’s shoot for the moon. At least that way we’ll hopefully break the atmosphere.

  3. Jonas Löwgren on

    To take Daniel’s question at face value — what we can all do to continue to position designers as facilitators of positive change — I suppose the first step must be to actually facilitate positive change.

    Not trying to be facetious here; I think that what we do counts for even more than what we say. Isn’t that why portfolios are still centerpieces of job interviews, and design competitions are the most reliable way of getting design reported in mainstream media?

    Note, however, that facilitating positive change is not only to bring world peace and stop global warming. Improving the workflow of a piece of enterprise software is also facilitating positive change. As is creating a more pleasurable and engaging interaction experience for a consumer product.

    This second part may need to be spelt out clearly. The “positive change” label may come with a certain pro-bono flavor, and then it becomes our responsibility to change that perception through the way we communicate our work. This ranges from invidiual blogposts to invited talks, textbooks and design competition jury motivations: Focus on the positive-change aspects of the work in question, rather than on its qualities as a quasi-artwork.

    Another thing about the second part is that there are a million ways to facilitate positive change. Designerly crafts and ways of working is but one of them, but it happens to be the one we command. When communicating our positive-change work, showing how it was done in designerly ways might be just as important in order to uphold the profession and clarify its interfaces to other professions.

    Doing this (facilitating positive change, communicating the positive-change outcomes, and communicating the designerly ways of working) might be a way to re-charge the design moniker with more appropriate content.

  4. Alan Alpert on

    There’s a word for ‘thinkers’ already. Philosopher. Doctor of philosophy has a nice ring to it too ;) . What these articles don’t clarify, and which might help elucidate the problem, is what the design term encompasses. Would it include the engineers who design circuits? The bureaucrats who design payroll processes? The scientists who design experimental apparatus? Every skilled profession has skills and a mental framework for approaching and solving problems, what aspect of this problem solving approach is inherent to designers?

    Ignoring the semantic issue would be more efficient, but then isn’t it just the age-old philosophy question of “What can we do to facilitate positive change?” which has its own endless semantic debates…

  5. Francis Rowland on

    An interesting question, and I think Alan makes a very valid point there: what do we include in the definition of “design”?

    I typically work with a lot of developers and scientists, and they also design things; they follow a process.

    I spend a fair amount of time and energy encouraging developers in particular to consider the impact that they can have on user experience, and that their [software] design choices can have a huge impact. I also try to emphasise that the kind of ux design work I do isn’t about sprinkling magic UX dust on top of a product. We can work together! It just helps to understand more about what each of us is doing.

    I’ve been invited to a meeting this afternoon to discuss this very thing with a group of developers. I’m hoping that I will have a positive impact!

    As Jonas suggests, appropriate, effective communication is key, I reckon.

  6. Alex Debkaliuk on

    The answer lies in analytics.

    Backing up ideas and suggestions with numbers is essential.

  7. @mimojito (aka efren) on

    When did ‘designer’ become such a term of contempt? Designers make the impossible seem possible. The imaginative become reality. We make the ether turn solid. Our impact is measured on the satisfaction of the end user regardless if the client ‘likes it’ or doesn’t. I am less concerned about the title, it’s use or derived meaning in the minds and mindsets of others. As a designer, I am driven to make users feel empowered.