Design Journalism Sucks. Are Designers The Enemy of Design--Comment No. 3: Tim Brown/IDEO.

Bruce Nussbaum

This third comment to the Parson's speech Are Designers The Enemy of Design by Tim Brown provides a powerful argument to why Design Thinking is perhaps the best hope to solve many of the problems we face today--from sustainability to education.
But Tim's point about Design Democracy is equally pointed. New technologies are opening up the design process, allowing more participation by consumers and the public at large. Trying to build barriers to that access or railing against it conjures up images of King Canut telling the tides not to come in.

Ironically, these same pressures are open up journalism. I am having the same arguments within my profession about opening up stories to participation by readers, open sourcing stories, demassing, etc. So designers and journalists are going through very similar changes in their professions.

Finally, Tim's point about the narrowness and backwardness of the design press is very well taken. Nearly all main stream press, including the business press, still covers design as if it were candy. This is especially true of the NYT, the LA Times and the WSJ. Forbes is lost, Fortune occassionally gets it.

Wired is still mired in technology. Fast Company does get it. Monocle may get it. And BW, Inside Innovation and the Innovation & Design site do get it.

The design press, with exceptions such as ID Magazine and Metropolis and a couple of others, still focuses on eye candy.

So here goes with Tim.

Tim Brown | IDEO, United States

I applaud Bruce Nussbaum’s challenge to think critically about our practice. In a time where almost every activity is being ‘democratized’ by technology, designers cannot expect to be immune. The tools of design thinking will become available to ever more people, just like the tools of music making or image making. As ‘professional designers’ we can respond in two ways. We can attempt to protect our activities like the guilds of the Middle Ages or we can embrace the opportunity to be expansive about Design Thinking and what it can achieve.
I have always tried to judge my contribution as a designer, and the contribution of IDEO, by the impact our work has in the world. I believe the motivation to have impact is at the core of why we design which is why we have been active supporters of the idea of Design Thinking. By encouraging as many people as possible to understand and apply Design Thinking we believe that it is possible to massively increase the level of impact. If social entrepreneurs can use Design Thinking to create better solutions for the poor then we are creating positive impact. If business people can use Design Thinking to better understand the needs of their customers and create offerings that are truly valued; that is positive impact. If anyone can use Design Thinking to solve a problem that they face in their lives then the result is positive impact.
There is no doubt in my mind that if designers are going to make a positive contribution to a sustainable society we are going to have to leverage every nuance of Design Thinking to the full and that is why I believe there is plenty of opportunity left for professionals. But to fulfill that ambition we are going to have to move beyond our fascination with the surface. This is difficult. I will be the first to admit that I am seduced by beautiful objects and images. I enjoy creating them and I enjoy acquiring them.
Business makes a lot of money by providing us with seductive things and we are not going to persuade ourselves, or our clients, to kick the habit just because it is worthy. We have to leverage the same tools of Design Thinking to create functionally, emotionally and economically compelling alternatives. These solutions will be more nuanced than the solutions of today. They will make more of less. In some cases they will require breakthrough innovation in business models, technology and behavior. In all cases they will be the result of talented interdisciplinary teams working across all aspects of the problem and not the product of the lone designer. I am pleased to see that Bruce is already challenging the role of his own profession in the promulgation of outdated ideas about design. While ever the vast majority of journalism is obsessed with the stylish object and the beautiful image we should not be surprised if business people, young designers and the public at large assume that is what design is about. While I applaud his personal efforts to champion Design Thinking perhaps the opening line for his next talk can be “Design journalism sucks.”

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