Design demystified and liberated.

As a designer I am always keen to point out that a project is best served by hiring an experienced, formally educated designer. In a business context where time and efficiency are always key factors for the success or failure of various pursuits, the design profession is always relevant and this will be the subject for a future article. However, as design keeps evolving and splitting into different specialties, it is becoming increasingly complicated to search and select the right person for a job or a project. The more this specialization happens, the less ‘design’ is capable of defending its ability to be holistic, multidisciplinary and participatory. Every now and then, despite considering myself a designer, it gives me satisfaction to disassemble and reassemble design (as a term containing its current meaning), so that I can demystify its acquired status and envision a world where we are all designers: problem solvers and intentional explorers of aesthetics. I suspect that this personal need of mine derives from the active effort not to lose my connection with the roots of creativity. Not only mine but also that, of every person I meet.

An impactful idea or movement is always a target for exploitation. Design has not avoided this trait. Creativity, although very common at a higher or lesser degree, has become an acquired title of achievement. A qualification achieved by rigorous higher education. There are exceptions which the establishment doesn’t ignore, but not as many to justify revolution. Design is thus becoming increasingly elitist which is, in my view, unfair to common, raw human ingenuity. Design, and all the buzzwords that surround it, almost makes an effort to be mystical and distant to common intelligence. It is becoming so distant that new creativity courses are being marketed to ‘non designers’ so that every business can benefit from a type of creativity which claims to be extraordinary. Perhaps Natasha Jen is right to call ‘design thinking’ buzz filled bullsh*t. But I am ready to take a step further and suggest that design itself may be bullsh*t. Perhaps not so much what the word ‘design’ intended to mean but rather what it has become.

I am not a believer of ‘design thinking’ as a brand in the field of ‘thinking’. I was trained to practice design thinking as most designers in the 90s but I would never feel comfortable selling myself as a ‘design thinker’ as I see many designers do. The way it’s been sold, I still honestly see it as a gimmick. However, design, as I am sure is the case with the majority of designers, has not only defined my daily work but also all other aspects of my life. They way I speak, what I eat, how I exercise, how I approach disagreements and all my everyday activities, wherever thinking is required, have been formed through the years by design. Everything I do, I consciously try to do better by design. Ever since I was impressed by the way design can be applied to all human activity, I could never explain why it wasn’t taught at school.

But then again, what is being taught at schools doesn’t have to be called design at all as long as there is thoughtful reflection, research for information, critique, validated conclusions, imagination when composing different solutions and evaluation of the various proposed solutions. Such a policy may be all it takes to really make problem solving a Universal skill, the same as math, reading or writing.

Nor the branded version of ‘design thinking’, neither ‘design’ in general, need to come full circle to become part of the school curriculum. Thoughtful reflection, research for information, critique, validated conclusions, imagination when composing different solutions and evaluation of the various proposed solutions are directly elements of a higher quality of intentional, useful thinking which I believe that if taught in schools, without its novel branding, would indeed be part of future generations as a common language and point of reference. The lesson could be called “the art of thinking” which doesn’t refer to a specific methodology, does not have to be confined to 5 coloured hexagons, symbols or protocols and this way, thinking itself could become a field of study and limitless future possibilities. An added benefit would be that this quality of thinking would be associated with all human activity and not just the creative professions. We would have lawyer designers, firefighter designers, security guard designers and then it would be easier for anyone to understand how all human activity is interconnected and innovation would emerge amply, from anybody, to approach any problem. If everyone was trained in the art of thinking from an early age, then all human activity would be holistic, multidisciplinary and participatory.

Consequently, design would be liberated from its industrial prepackaging and evolve freely by the people and for the people. Using design, humans would keep inventing services and products as is the case today, but it would be a very small fraction of what the rest of the world would be coming up with.

In order not to misunderstand the criticism exercised in this article, one must keep the politics of information in mind. In this industrial global environment, information is an area of interest in which there is investment, specialization and exploitation. Knowledge is commercialized and specialization sells well. However the majority of design has to do with the quality of thinking involved and this quality of thinking would be useful to everyone.

I say, make the art of thinking a core element of the school curriculum and in 30 years time you will witness a different world blossoming around you.

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