Evaluate the role that design plays in a complex, networked and technologically driven world
by Marco-Antonio Grubben
If I were to write this blog in 日本語 a lot of you won’t understand what I’m saying, let alone myself. Or if I use a secret code only I know 88 929 11902 8989 101. Or I make the typeface
*muffled scream*. Where was I, ah yes, explaining how design plays a role in a complex, networked and tech driven world. Simply put, Design is everything. Period. Try enjoying my epoch-defining blog in any of those awful ways I mentioned earlier, imagine reading 1000 words in Zapfino, you would probably go blind. Design is so crucial to the way we live, we have all fallen victim to bad design multiple times in our lives. In today’s modern world, we are even more sensitive to bad design. For non-designers, the internet and companies like Apple have taught consumers how beautiful and functional design is. Now, when we land on a website like this one: https://www.cosmoplanes.com or https://jamilin.com our eyes vomit. (Except https://www.lingscars.com, it’s so bad it’s good).
On a more serious note, when you have a reputable institution like Yale have THIS as their site: https://www.art.yale.edu , as a student would I pay 70K a year for THIS!? NO! Because the design sucks. More than ever good design equals trust and we want are more likely to spend money when it’s visually pleasing. More than ever our world is being better designed, sleeker logos, better UX/UI interfaces, more satisfying album covers. Obviously, design is known for lying and overselling the product. We get duped by the shiny packaging. However, there was something in the image, the words, the colors that got you to buy it. For a split-second you gave it your trust and ultimately your money. Stepping away from the supermarket and into the bigger picture, what is the cost of design today?
Apart from eating, sleeping and drinking water, design is a need we share with every single person on the planet. Let’s pretend you flew to Lagos in a commercial Boeing 787 to meet up with your family, they pick you up in their Jeep Highlander. You connect your Spotify using Bluetooth to listen to some Burna Boy. You head over to a bar to grab a few Kingfishers and some Jollof rice and Suya after your long flight, the Phillips fan whirrs on the ceiling while Arsenal and Manchester are playing on a Samsung TV. All of that was possible because of DESIGN! Everything we love and have grown accustomed to is thanks to design. It’s the glue that holds our modern world together, but also the blowtorch roasting our planet’s ecosystem. Every single thing I mentioned in that short description causes hundreds, thousands, millions and billions of tons of carbon. It seems so innocent but try to imagine that happening every minute of every day across the entire planet 365 days a year. We simply don’t realize our ecological impact. Just like death, we can’t escape design nor climate change. You might think “We can’t kern our way out of this one Marco-Antonio”, actually, we can. If the scientist who devises the technology to extract carbon from our atmosphere doesn’t have a designer to layout his instruction manual, the invention would be useless. No one could operate it, because they wouldn’t understand what to do. We don’t just need solutions; we need well-designed solutions.
Writer, advisor and event producer John Thackara says, “If we can design our way into difficulty, we can design our way out of it” (in the bubble, 2005). That is absolutely true, after all we designed so many incredible solutions to problems that once were the only thing stopping humans from progressing. We designed sewage systems, recycling, freshwater distribution, vaccinations, etc. We are the silver-lining, always have been. We need to be leading the teams alongside the scientists, politicians and governments who need to make immediate differences in solving what is the single most important crisis of human history. We will make the difference one optically spaced letter at a time.
Taking from my own experience, I look back now on a trip I took to Bali. I took two flights to get there to only stay 4 and a half days, the millions of tons of carbon I shot into the air, for a weekend away on the other side of the planet?! If Covid-19 proved one thing, we can’t go back to the way things were and we certainly can’t bring back the kind of luxuries like my little Bali trip. As designers we need so much energy and paper from the start to the finish of a single project, I’m keen to find out how much energy we need just to keep our laptop going. As a community, we need to start acting more consciously in the way we work and the spaces we use. From simple moves like using energy-efficient bulbs and removing single-sue plastic from the kitchen area of the studio to committing to designing for good. It’s our priority to either assist or spearhead climate conscious projects. To convince our clients to take the ecological route and to be firm in our decisions to do so. Design influences our lives we know that, but now we need to actively choose to influence for good.
What difference am I making? That’s a fair question, because it’s easy to tell others how to live their lives. I chose to enter the Penguin Student Design Award and come up with a cover for the non-fiction category, the book this year is ‘The Uninhabitable Earth’ by David Wallace-Wells. I was struck and blindsided, I feared for my life and for my non-existent children. I read all 300+ pages to not only get inspired but to educate myself on what’s really going on. Armed with knowledge and design, we can be unstoppable if we choose to. I hope that my cover could influence a buyer to pick it up, to tempt them visually and get them stuck in. Remember what I said earlier about trust and design being interlinked, we need to use our superpowers of conviction and enticement to get viewers to divert their attention over to us. We need to convince people every single day to choose the eco-friendly products and make eco-friendly choices. Wherever and whenever, we must make that difference and help audiences and customers make the right choice every single time. Just like we have made cars, lingerie, mustard, soda, cigarettes sexy all these years, we need to make climate change super friggin’ sexy! Because you know what isn’t sexy: suffering and if we don’t change our ways will be doing a lot more of it. Let’s command/control+Z climate change together!
John Thackara (2020) Profile. Available: http://thackara.com/working-with-john-thackara/ (Accessed: 03/02/2021)
Thackara, J. (2005) In the Bubble. MIT Press. Available: https://books.google.ch/books/about/In_the_Bubble.html?id=iKnuDwAAQBAJ&source=kp_book_description&redir_esc=y (Accessed: 03/02/2021)