It’s high time that we, as designers and creatives at the forefront of innovation, communication, and digital product development, re-evaluate our role and responsibility towards society and the ecosystems. In the early 1970s, the designer and philosopher Victor Papanek wrote: ‘There are professions more harmful than industrial design, but only a few’. This thought is more relevant than ever, though today we have to expand the expression to Interaction Design, Strategic Design, or User Experience Design.
In order to leave this planet better than it was, we have to step back, refocus, and re-evaluate the roles we want to play in creating the future. These principles should serve as a kind of compass for you to gain new perspectives, reflect on your own work, spark conversations, and help you find your own approach to not fuck up our future.
1. Be aware of your responsibility
Every artifact, product, service, and system we design has an influence on the world around us. Our work affects people in their behavior, thinking, desires, well-being, relationships, and actions as well as the natural resources, habitats of animals, and the balance of entire ecosystems. We are, therefore, responsible for every design decision we take, with whom we work, and for what cause. Always remind yourself that you are part of a society and a huge and fragile ecosystems.
2. Put impact over profit and focus on challenges that matter
As we’re facing huge societal and environmental challenges, we can’t continue to waste time designing things that are useless for the majority of society, only drive consumerism, serve shareholders, and the irrational growth mind-set of the market. Make sure that the problems you take on are worth solving. For this, the sustainable development goals of the United Nations serve as a perfect compass to start from.
3. Understand the system in which you’re designing
Designing solutions for environmental and societal challenges always takes place in complex systems. There is no such thing as a single and independent solution. Everything is connected and dependent on other factors. Only if we get to understand the system we are working in can we find a potential point of influence and start to enhance it.
4. Welcome diversity, work collaborative and interdisciplinary
In today’s complex and fast-paced world, no-one can claim that only he or she has the right answer or solution. We need different kinds of expertise, perspectives, opinions, cultures, and genders to collaborate together in order to create inclusive and sustainable solutions for everyone. Only a diverse design team is a good design team.
5. Gain empathy for the people you’re designing for
We’ve to immerse ourselves in the challenges we’re facing in our work and create empathy for the people who’re affected by it. Only if we include these people in a participatory design process or our design team, and work together collaboratively on the eye level, will we create ideas that have a potential positive impact. In the end, everything is about relationships between people.
6. Learn from nature and think circular
We, as designers, play our role in the creation of most of the products that fill our dump-yards and pollute our oceans. In the ecosystems, there is no such thing as waste: every resource remains in a circular system and is reused over and over again. Design products that follow a circular mind-set take nature as the role model and use resources wisely. Or, even better, stop creating products that have no higher value for society and are not worth the resources they exhaust.
7. Use technology to serve humans and the ecosystems
By designing the interactions between technology and humans, we shape the digital experiences of our daily life. In the past decade of technological euphoria, we mainly created products that disconnected us from our true self, made us addictive, and are harmful for our psyche. We have to shift our mind-set from a technology-driven design approach towards the creation of products that serve us humans as well as the ecosystems.
8. Embrace openness and community
In a truly connected world, the times where we can design closed and isolated artifacts, products, and platforms are over. We have to leave our egos behind, open up our designs to everyone, build on each other’s ideas, and create solutions that can be driven further and scaled by others. Embrace share-ability, adaptability, and hack-ability of your design solutions. Only then can we make use of our global crowd-based intelligence, with the whole becoming greater than the sum of the parts.
9. Create designs that empower others
We are not on our own in this. By creating designs that empower others, we can make others identify with our cause, enable them to take ownership, spread the effort, and, through that, maximize the impact of the endeavor. One idea can lead to an entire movement. So start teaching others, create toolkits and share your knowledge wherever you can.
10. Take care of yourself
Working on the most pressing challenges of our time can be very overwhelming. If you’re not in balance, it’s easy to lose the connection to yourself, drown in a sea of workload, and get exhausted and burned out on the long run. Learn to say no, set limits to your working hours, and plan breaks for yourself to calm down and relax. Often, small steps and solutions for e.g. in your local community are a good way to start from. If we don’t want to fuck up our future, we need you here with your full power. So please take care of yourself and your well-being.
Let’s start to
unfuck our future
We as designers are more involved in strategic decision making than ever before, yet still, lots of decisions are made without our influence. But nevertheless, we are part of the companies, agencies, consultancies, and teams who are defining a big pile of our future. Even if we have not all the answers at hand, it’s time to start asking uncomfortable questions, spark new conversations and stand up for a more sustainable and equal future.
So get your hands off the keyboard and start to unfuck our future.
Reflect your own practice
Start reflecting on your own practice and think about your values. This small workbook supports you in asking the right questions.Download Principles Workbook
Spread the word
and start conversations
Start conversations about design ethics, online and offline, within your teams to create a buzz. There are great resources and tools out there that support you in this.